Tuesday 29 September 2009

picking up litter on memory lane

rummaging for something else entirely this morning i found an old photograph
that i had taken 33 years ago
on September 29th, 1976

it had survived the 83 bushfire in someone else's keeping

i shot it with a Canon FTb...an honest SLR camera that doesn't do anything unless you ask it.
you set the exposure and the aperture and press the button. it has a light meter but if the battery on that goes flat you can still take a picture with a lovely real clunking sound.
i still have it.

i still go back to that view, too. it's from the top of Russian Hill in San Francisco. and hey, those are eucalyptus leaves dangling in the foreground.

that famous bridge is in the far distance, a little bleached with time.

we'd come to San Francisco having driven a Jeep across Canada and then down the west coast of the US. that the Jeep [known fondly as the Heap and acquired for the princely sum of $200] got so far is testament to the mechanical nursing skills of my Papa. He's [still] more than just a pretty face and a PhD in Glaciology [mind you, i do sometimes question his judgement, such as when he let my unlicensed 14 year old brother take the wheel across Alberta]

it was the end of a long wandering that had seen us living next to the hayloft of a farmhouse in Tirol, swinging into Easter Sunday Mass at San Marco [Venezia] and nearly being arrested for insanely laughing on the train while it was waiting at a station in the Basque region [that story is too hard to explain, you had to be there]

in our luggage we were nursing a kefir fungus, reputedly smuggled out of the Caucasus by a Benedictine monk. and if it wasn't, well it's a good story. i'm not sure i want to know where he hid it, though.

kefir is a fermented milk drink. legend has it that drinking it will extend your longevity and that if you're a consistent consumer you may aspire to become a Sesquicentenarian.

33 years ago we were drinking kefir in San Francisco. 33 years ago i had a 22 inch waist, long hair, an aversion to shoes and wanted to be an architect.

some things have changed.

i didn't make it through architecture school [foolishly stormed out after a huge row during a crit session], the waist has sadly become rather sturdier and i've developed an affinity for steel capped boots [especially when drafting cattle]

but i still have long hair
i'm still drinking kefir.

today with the added luxury of a swirl of maple syrup.

Saturday 26 September 2009

on porcelain and tomatoes

this morning [as is our wont] we wandered to the Barossa Farmers Market.

there, among other things we found the hard-working growers of excellent tomatoes.

they were selling their produce at $12 per box. of course we invested.
as soon as we had arrived home with this bounty i chopped a heap into a pyrex dish and put them to cook very slowly in the oven.

after a cup of tea i rushed off to my porcelain class and forgot all about the tomatoes.

in class we trimmed work from previous sessions, de-dusted our bisque-fired work and dipped things cheerfully in glaze.
Ying Qing to be precise.
it was wonderful to watch the glaze turn from shiny wet to soft eggshell.
some time during the week they will be fired.

i'm rather pleased with that bowl. it's no masterpiece but
it was produced during my second attempt at wheel-throwing [or whatever the correct term is] and at least looks like a bowl and not just a pile of stuff

i had a truly splendid afternoon in my porcelain class.

much, much later i remembered the tomatoes, stewing in their tomb.
there could have been a disaster, but wasn't.

so i can tell you [in case you need to know] that about 3kg tomatoes chopped into a pyrex dish, seasoned with sea salt, black pepper and a vigorous grating of palm sugar and baked for 7 hours at 100 degrees Celsius makes a jolly good topping for toast

Wednesday 23 September 2009

care label

Rachelle from Ahipara directed me to Leafcutter Designs
where Lea Redmond has kindly made this delightful care label available

click on the tag to go to the Leafcutter site...

Tuesday 22 September 2009


a watercolour day with storms and puddles and muddy rivers
flowing across the road
just perfect for a walk in the park

and the best weather for looking at plants
in the Mount Lofty Botanic Garden

no fairweather tourists filming the lilies
just happy Kurrawongs
and cheerful ducks
pootling about in the raindrops

on the way thither
dodging giant splashes from urban SUVs storming through the water
like Stormtroopers on their way to some
imaginary Front
[they'll have to get another can of spray on dust, he he]

i heard another sample of idiocy on the wireless
that Australian farmers [about to be penalised for the emissions from their ruminant stock]
can't claim credit for any trees planted prior to 1990
apparently the Government has already included those in their
'stocktake' submitted for Kyoto

so if your farm is full [of trees] and you want to claim carbon credits against potential ovine or bovine flatulence
then as the policy stands at present it is apparently legal to chop them down
and replant with seedlings

who cares that standing trees [and coal, for that matter]
are the best means of storing carbon

nonetheless, despite muttering about carbon credits from one side of their mouths,
those in power are still subsidising the woodchipping of old growth forests in Tasmania

click here to visit the Wilderness Society's page and view their video...

oh, and the icing on the cake is the suggestion [also picked up from the wireless] that in the event your farm in burned in a fire you may well find yourself paying an emissions tax!

Friday 18 September 2009

stuff to write on

earlier in the week i noticed a wee rant about notebooks over on Julia Eff's page

set me thinking about whether or not i am precious about my writing.
as in fussy about what i do it on. clearly the MacBookPro plays a vital role
but i have to admit that i'm a bit of a Luddite
i like writing on paper, preferably with a fountain pen
if i've put the fountain in a safe place [read 'mislaid it']
then with a 0.4 black felt tip

even though i can type much faster than i can write by hand
[thanks to an employer in the dim dark past who sent me to 6 weeks of touch typing lessons]
i find that when i'm thinking in a hurry
dyslexia rears her head and starts putting the words down

not helpful.
so i write by hand, then type the stuff up

i've had the occasional Moleskine [i do like their brown-paper-cover cahiers] but usually the el cheapo from the $5 apiece last-years-diary sale. the lines are a bit close but i write on every second
as i'm a tad scrawly.

i've been seduced by luscious covers from time to time, such as a very pretty leather-bound green one, wrapped with a wee string
sadly the paper inside was better suited to use in a latrine
and tore in gullies and canyons
and blobs of ink

quite pretty, i suppose, when viewed as a landscape.

but the best books to write in by far
are the dummies i get from my publisher
sometimes they even have amusing covers

the paper stock is excellent. i usually scribble on the right hand page
leaving the left for doodles
while waiting for The Muse to finish her cup of tea

sometimes she's away for a while.

sometimes other things creep in

faded cloth flower petals floating about the graveyard some months after memorial day

when the writings done, typed, dealt with
the book takes on another life
a wandering doodle book

writing obscured by watercolour, scribble, found stuff...

oh, and if you're wondering what the folded object is at the beginning of this post, it's a version of the amazing Blizzard Book devised by bookbinder and paperfolder Hedi Kyle

the instructions are contained in the Penland Book of Handmade Books

so, tell me, what do YOU like to write on?

ps [as in 'added a little later on'] Imbi has drawn this out a bit further...

Thursday 17 September 2009

telling the whirled

here's a head's up to those readers who haven't found Monda

she's [bravely] running a monthly carnival of writing

wander on over to read more
to make use of the nifty link to roadsign creation that she's included

Sunday 13 September 2009

lost in the garden

this last week i have been cutting the hay around my house in an effort to find the garden i was pretty sure had been there last summer

i began on hands and knees using a small Japanese rice cutter acquired in Yamaguchi a while back
it's a good tool, easily sharpened on whatever stone is handy

after a few days of this prayerful attitude it became clear i would have to call in the Big Guns
resort to using the Viper Sniper

what's a Viper Sniper? i hear you mutter. some folks call 'em strimmers. in Australia they rose to popularity as Whipper Snippers

my friend Karoly Szabo called them Viper Snipers. they are a tool of last resort - i prefer quiet and stillness punctuated by birdcall when pottering about in the green - but thanks to his well-chosen epithet they remind me of him.

i first met him when i was twelve years old. at the time i made a habit of cloaking myself in an enormous black woollen cape no matter what the occasion. this may account for the conspicuous lack of invitations to birthday parties and other conventional pre-teen amusements of the time

i also had an interest in plants. this made me doubly weird as far as my schoolmates were concerned
and which explains why i was tagging along with my parents on a Saturday morning plant-foraging excursion. we were newcomers to the district back then. the Greenwitch nursery was the "campfire" around which local gardeners would meet. it was the domain of Karoly Szabo - known by all and sundry as 'Charlie'.
he'd created his green paradise having been displaced from his native Hungary by the Second World War and specialized in small growing alpine region plants

i recall the moment of our meeting vividly.
Charlie, a diminutive but sturdy figure adorned with an impressive black moustache and a mane of matching hair [wearing a large Siamese cat draped around his neck]
understood my sartorial splendour immediately.
as we walked into his garden he looked up and with a beaming smile that outshone Tony Curtis' efforts in "The Great Race" called

'i see you are a friend! i too am from Transylvania, ze heart of Dracula country!'
[read that line with an outrageous middle European accent]

we were firm friends from that time on [and it was true, he really WAS from the heart of Dracula country]

i am indebted to Charlie as well as to David Thomson [who ran a rare plant nursery at Summertown] and Bob Blows [who ran a specialist Rhododendron nursery in the Sturt Valley] for teaching me so much about the botanical world

the usual things happened, i grew up, wandered off

years later, wandering down the main street of Mount Pleasant with infants in tow i noticed a familiar figure pushing a wheelbarrow about on the hitherto vacant allotment next to the Post Office. it was Charlie.
he was relocating from the cloudy climes of Stirling to the rather drier region on the eastern slopes of the Mount Lofty Ranges. years of dedicated tobacco consumption had taken their toll on his lungs and the resulting emphysema seemed easier to endure here

he still sported his luxuriant thatch and whiskers but they had become somewhat snow-streaked since i had seen him last.

the Siamese had long departed this whirled and he was now attended by an elderly black cat. Gypsy was a little deaf and had only a few teeth, most notably two spectacular canines that conjured memories of my flapping garment
she was Charlie's reason for lighting the gas fire in winter and helped him make his way through tubs of ice-cream in summer

we fell into the habit of taking Turkish coffee together on a Tuesday morning. Charlie's friend [and former employee at the GreenWitch] Jacqui would do the honours. she came twice a week to share coffee and bring him pots of goulash along with other middle-European delicacies that she'd learned to cook during a friendship that encompassed nearly half a century.

Charlie died on June 26, 2002 when something went amiss in his body and sent the car he was driving into the arms of a waiting tree. the wild tulips blooming in the picture below were a gift from him.

his ungrateful god-daughters inherited everything but couldn't even bring themselves to organise a headstone for his grave.

p.s. if you're wondering what happened to Gypsy...she pre-deceased Charlie by some six months. a week or so after Charlie's funeral i exhumed her remains [not as gruesome as it sounds, they were wrapped in one of his old shirts], took them under cover of darkness to the graveyard and reunited her with her friend.
if you're passing by, stand a while and listen carefully...you'll hear her purring still.

p.p.s. if you like reading stories you might wander over to Monda's ...she spins a very fine yarn indeed.

Wednesday 9 September 2009

fishing in the whirlpool

while fishing for something else entirely [often the way] i found a site that might be of use to other artists

is hosted by the ABC
[that's the national broadcasting network here in Oz, for those of you not familiar with things on the Big Red Island]

Australian artists can upload pix and clips and other stuff. maybe others can too. who knows.

so in between unwrapping dye bundles [see above] i've submitted a few things.

it seems there's no end to the amusing ways in which one might publicly make a complete pratt of oneself if one so desired...

Monday 7 September 2009

on the other hand

in order to prevent my brain turning into something like this
and to remind myself how it feels to be an utter novice
i signed up to a class in porcelain bowl making
the JamFactory in South Australia
i spent an afternoon there
this last weekend
being reminded how it is to be a student
watching the master demonstrate something deceptively simple
and then attempting myself to get a feel for conjuring a bowl from what is essentially a lump of mud
at the end of four hours i had six slightly misshaped vessels
which on Japanese principles should have been tossed into the pugmill for recycling

you know, to make a teabowl you first have to throw 999 of them away

it was good to turn the 'teachermouth' off
to listen and observe
to wedge some clay
form a ball

attempt at centering it on the wheel
getting oneself centered in the process
and be reminded of the difference in the hands

the right one works better at pulling a pot
the left one is much better when pinching a vessel
oddly the left is also my felting hand
while the fountain pen has made a home in my right
sewing is ambidextrous

for the next five weeks [with the odd break to allow for other commitments]
i shall be beavering away at the Jamfactory
Saturday afternoons smoothing silky seductive silica surfaces ['clay' didn't fit in that sentence]

as a bonus there may be a few bowls to take home at the end
for teatime in the studio
Gwyn Pigott and Petrus Spronk can sleep easy

i'm undertaking a journey
learning about the process of learning
and on the way
collecting some lovely pre-mordants on my clothing