[31 Dec 02]




[20 Dec 02] You don't need snow to have a white Christmas. These photos are from the car-park behind our block of flats yesterday—and the frost was even thicker today.

Frosty Bush Frost on a Windscreen Frost on a Windscreen Cover Frosty Car

Frost in Edinburgh


Things Not to Leave 'Til the Last Minute

[20 Dec 02]

  1. Writing annual Christmas letter to friends and family.
  2. Writing Christmas cards in lieu of annual Christmas letter.
  3. Mailing said cards to other side of the world.
  4. Buying Christmas presents.
  5. Mailing presents to same side of world (i.e., other) to have at least some chance of their arriving before Christmas.
  6. Buying tickets to The Two Towers for any screenings before January 2003.
  7. Pre-emptive dentist's appointment to apply fluoride force-field against oncoming barrage of sugar.
  8. All of that half-finished work you were going to do by Christmas so that 2002 doesn't seem like a total write-off.
  9. All of those things you were going to write for the site so that they go in the chronologically correct '2002' folder instead of the less-pleasingly-palindromic '2003'.
  10. Figuring out a neat way to sign off the blog before Christmas.


Edinburgh Burns

[ 9 Dec 02] Most days I get off the bus on George IV Bridge and walk along Chambers Street towards work, either crossing the road at South Bridge and taking an alleyway down to the Cowgate, or cutting down to the Cowgate using a set of stairs next to Adam House. Lately I've been taking the latter route more and more, because the sidewalk past the Gilded Balloon is quieter, and I enjoy the atmospheric medieval surroundings of tenement walls soaring up on either side with the stone arch of South Bridge overhead.

I won't be making that walk for a while. Today Chambers Street, the Cowgate and South Bridge are all closed off, after the worst fire in Edinburgh in living memory. Many of the buildings in that block have been gutted.

They're still there for now, looking much the same from the outside; but structural damage could mean that some of them have to be pulled down, leaving a gaping hole in the middle of Edinburgh's Old Town. Luckily, the fire didn't cross the Cowgate and spread along the Royal Mile, but the effect on the area is serious all the same, with dozens of businesses and hundreds of residents left homeless. Thirty-six hours after the fire started, it still smells of smoke.

A sad day for the city. I only hope that they rebuild as faithfully to the originals as possible.

[Update: the Gilded Balloon at lunchtime today.]



[11 Nov 02] For someone who's getting on a plane in 18 hours, I feel ridiculously underprepa


Aloo Zeera

[10 Nov 02] Adapted from Sameen Rushdie's Indian Cookery. Serves two.


750g baby potatoes
1-2 tbsp ghee or oil
1-2 tsp 'Very Lazy' chopped chili preserved in vinegar
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1 1/2 tsp dried coriander leaves
500g Plum Yoghurt
2 tickets to Morvern Callar


Partially cook whole potatoes in pressure cooker, allow to cool, then peel off skins and cut into small halves or one inch cubes. Heat large frying pan and fry potatoes in ghee or oil until brown. Add salt and turmeric and stir to coat. Scoop in a teaspoon of chili. Scoop in another for luck. Stir through until chili hits sizzling hot surface of pan. Inhale lungful of pure capsaicin emitted from frying chili. Stagger coughing from kitchen. Return reluctantly to staunch burning smell through constant stirring. Add cumin seeds and coriander leaves and cook until potatoes are done, breathing through handkerchief clenched in fist. Serve with rice, waving arms to disperse fumes that have permeated the entire flat. Open windows and leave ajar. Eat large tub of yoghurt to soothe inflamed throat. Evacuate building and head out to movies.


The Pleiades

[ 7 Nov 02]

In the autumn night
of the countryside
The glow of streetlamps
has no reach, and
the sky
is a coal-black beach

scatters its sands
caught in a wash of foam
As southern eyes
search out a cross
to anchor them
to home

No constant here
in northern air
breathed in these past
breathe in
turned year
breathe out

But then they find
a clutch of pearls
and disconcertment fades
A new anchor
to fix this sight
in mind and heart
The Pleiades


South to the North

[ 3 Nov 02] While the site was on ice I was at ICE, three days of stimulating papers and good company in the fresh air of the northern Lake District. Volunteering to help drive the shuttle bus to and from the train station gave me the chance to see a bit of the countryside (and almost bag a few slow pheasants), and to take a few photos of the scenery—click around to see them:

Higham Hall Lawn Higham Hall Lawn Higham Hall Bassenthwaite Water

The Lakes

A good conference helps to get your own ideas flowing, and thanks to this one I think I've finally found the right ones to frame some of the subjects I've been chipping away at over recent months, which was a welcome result. The after-dinner quiz was a result, too, because I won one of these. A brain full of net trivia comes in handy at last.

Good thing there weren't any questions about English surnames, though. As I stood admiring a painting of a stout colonel hanging on the wall, particularly his polysyllabic surname of 'Fetherstonhaugh', one of my colleagues put me to 'the Australian test' and asked me how it was pronounced.

"Featherst'nhaw," I guessed.

"Fanshaw," he corrected me.

That's ridlous.



[29 Oct 02] I'm disappearing for a few days. That's right—although I'll continue to post here, it'll all be invisible. (Although why would my posts be invisible just because I become invisible—surely my invisible fingers would still exert pressure on the keyboard? Waiter, I'd like a fresh one-liner, please; this one doesn't stand up to the harsh critical gaze of logic.)

Metaphorically speaking, I'm disappearing (in a non-literal sense) for a few (literally) days, to attend a symposium in the Lake district. This will, unfortunately, lead to a precipitous decline in new posts on this supposedly "frequently updated" site, to the tune of one hundred percent.

On the plus side, the rate of increase in new posts from Friday morning to sometime over the weekend could well be infinity percent.


[14 Oct 02] So, uh, hm. Kind of lost all enthusiasm for writing frivolous nonsense after hearing the news yesterday, so the other stuff will have to wait for a bit.

It feels strange to be stuck on the other side of the world when something like this happens: a sense of dislocation, of not being where you ought to be. Not that Australians were the only ones affected, of course, or that anyone I know personally was directly affected (I dearly hope); but clearly there's a lot to think and talk about for all of us right now, and much of that conversation is happening a long way away.


Dear Diary

[20 Sep 02] The trouble is, these things always take longer than expected.

My PhD research, back in the early '90s, involved about sixty lengthy interviews conducted over four months. I planned to use excerpts from them throughout my dissertation, but after returning from fieldwork couldn't face transcribing them all. Instead I avoided that necessary task by doing more book-work, until finally I could avoid it no longer, and forced myself to sit at the keyboard for eight to ten hours every day with headphones and a foot-pedal-operated tape-deck. It took months to transcribe them. Three hundred thousand words. About twenty percent of those ended up in the dissertation.

Strangely enough, the experience left me with a severe aversion to transcribing interviews from tape; or transcribing anything, really. I hate even typing up notes from a meeting (which didn't help when I had to do a lot of minuting during my brief stint as a bureaucrat).

So I knew I was tempting fate by writing my Madagascar diaries in long-hand in a notebook; but what choice did I have? I was hardly about to entrust any kind of delicate equipment to a backpack slung on top of a rusting minibus; and losing such valuable information to a technical glitch would be disastrous. Paper was the way to go.

Then there was the matter of finding time to write the diaries in the first place. We were too busy living the trip, seeing things and talking with each other about what we were seeing, writing postcards and letters to family and friends; and I got further and further behind, ending the month with the diaries only a third or a half written. Then there were more urgent priorities, like finding work, until finishing those diaries was the most important priority, before my medium-term memory dumped half of the details into the ether. I took myself off to the State Library of Victoria every couple of days and forced myself to write them, filling the first notebook and then a second.

And then: a new country, new job, new home, new chores, new travel and so on. And new ideas for other things to write, but always overshadowed by the Unfinished Task of 2000: the Madagascar book. I had to do something with that story, or forever regret it.

But there it was, bound up in two notebooks full of abysmal hand-writing, too illegible for OCR, too analog for word processing. They had to be transcribed to be any use, but I hate transcribing.

There was never going to be a good time to do it. So I just did it. Three weeks later, the two bound notebooks are 62,548 words of flat text. A lot of those words are usable as-is; others need work, and with that work should expand to comfortable book-length. Finally, the hypothetical becomes plausible.

It took another year to turn those interviews into a thesis, but this is a different sort of beast, so it shouldn't take that long. But it's an evenings-only job, which slows things down. Three to six months? Call it six. End of March.

And it's all there. A complete story, with a shape, a narrative thread, a greater significance than 'what I did on my holidays'. I've read enough travel writing over the past few years to know that this will stand up against it. And the book will be better for having matured in my mind and settled into its proper shape, the details safely recorded months (years) ago but no longer overwhelming it.

There's a moment when writing a long work when you turn a mental corner and know that you will actually reach the end, that it will be finished and will have been worth the effort. In my experience the moment comes about three-quarters of the way through the total length of the project, and about halfway through the actual work. July 2000 to September 2002... eight months to go, maybe.

So if you're one of those who can remember when that trip was just an idea, and who wondered if there was more to it than these few stories, the good news is that it finally looks like you'll get the chance to find out.


Pages and Paint

[18 Sep 02] Judging from the sparse front page this month it may not look like I've been writing, but the truth is that the writing has been elsewhere. Been transcribing my Madagascar diaries at long last, which look set to clock in at sixty thousand words (eighty percent done so far). The next step is to edit and rewrite them into a more polished narrative over the next few months. Between that and writing papers at work, there won't be many words left over for this site, but I'll try not to let it languish.

And I've been painting. Sadly, the kind that involves a step-ladder, not an easel; our kitchen and bathroom are now free of garish red tile paint and yellow and green walls, meaning that every room in our flat (bar the study, which was okay) is now repainted. Unfortunately, there is nothing entertaining about this process. Sure, the brochures make it look entertaining, with happy twenty-year-olds slurping flourescent purple onto their dining room walls without getting any on their designer jeans. But they lie. White satin matt is inherently boring; these days you can't even get off on the fumes, because it all washes out in water. Brushes bring no rush, and rollers are hardly roller-coasters. It's all about as exciting as... well, watching paint dry. Curse you, time-consuming-yet-anecdote-free chores.


He Stuck In His Thumb

[20 Aug 02] It took three attempts to find a plumber to come and fix our recently-deceased boiler—for a while I thought we were plumb out of luck. And it cost fifty-six quid to get him come out and have a look at it. Now there's a plum job. Fortunately, all it needed was a new thermostat, so it was easily fixed. No need to plumb the depths for any more puns, then.


REOS Error: Cortex Cache Full

[ 8 Jul 02] Back. Head full of thoughts about Berlin, and Vienna, and Germany and Austria, and history, and the Holocaust, and Europe, and the euro, and the UK, and UK attitudes to Germany and Europe and the euro, and art, and ethnography, and empire, and museums, and Australia, and travelling, and travelling Australians, and Australians connecting with European history and art, and Australian history, and Aboriginal history, and reconciliation, and coming to terms with history, and Germans and Austrians coming to terms with history, and the Holocaust, and the Jewish Museum in Berlin, and Berlin, and Berlin.

Too many to write just now; I'll work through them over time. Meanwhile, just been looking around the weblogging vicinity, more thoroughly than I could in a few quick net cafe sessions over the past two weeks. Redesigns and hiatuses everywhere: Stavros, Graham, Jerry, James off-and-on, Bright Cold Matt, Shauny by the looks of it, and most especially Ed, who has torn down everything with scary and scarifying thoroughness (an urge I can well understand, and the new direction looks intriguing; but the appearance of an Ed-shaped hole in the archives of so many cross-weblog conversations, including several here, is a sobering reminder of one's online mortality).

Meanwhile, a flurry of academic ideas from having just been at a conference for a few days, and web-related ideas from having been away from it for a few weeks, compete for cerebral real estate. The results might appear a bit erratic, or might not appear at all. Bear with us while we taxi to our take-off position. Cabin crew close doors and cross-check.

[Is this post 'site news', 'weblog' or 'journal'? It was so much easier when everything was 'travel'.]


Ready for the Laughing Gas

[20 Jun 02]


Four days until we hit Zoo Station in Berlin, one of our favourite cities, ha ha! And thence to Vienna, where I'm giving a conference paper that's still swirling around unfinished in my head and in scraps of text (fortunately it's all making some sort of sense now). So, guess what I'm going to be doing between now and Monday morning... and guess what I'm not going to be doing.

I might drop an entry or two in here from ein Netzkaffee somewhere along the way. Otherwise, see you in the second week of July.


The White Album

[10 May 02] Our living room was turquoise a week ago. Now it's white, or just slightly off-white, turning it from aquarium into art gallery. The whole space feels light, open, clean; I keep expecting to see an ancient Dave Bowman lying on a bed in the corner. It's enough to make a week of hole-filling, newspaper-laying, paint-splattering, brush-cleaning, stretching to reach the ceiling, and a hundred and twenty-five metres of masking tape seem worthwhile.

But now the bedroom feels like the black hole of Calcutta.

Curse you, Endless Treadmill of Redecoration.


[ 6 May 02] As if one weblog wasn't enough, I'm now posting to another, although less frequently than here. Don't get too excited, though—it's the day job.


[ 1 May 02] Amazing. I've lasted well over three months with this same design and am still happy with it. A far cry from before.

Behind the scenes, though, it's been the usual bout of semi-annual blogging ennui. The day before the anniversary of uncertainty, I finally have some certainty about where I'll physically be in a year's time, but find that the uncertainty has migrated inwards and etherwards: Where will my mind be? Where will this site be? Perhaps I've lived with uncertainty for so long that it's woven itself into the fabric of my being.

The trouble is that I can no longer kid myself that this site and/or blog will lead to much: it is what it is, a personal site of modest readership and minimal impact, appreciated by a handful of readers and otherwise widely ignored. Back when I started blogging—nearly two years ago—it was still possible to imagine that putting in a little effort would 'lead somewhere'—you know, like writing a novel 'leads somewhere'; you eventually finish it, mail it out to dozens of publishers and agents, it miraculously leaps out of the slush pile and into print, and ta-dahh! A print-run of a few thousand and enough royalties to keep you in beans for six months await.

But blogging doesn't 'lead' anywhere. And even if it did—would you want to be there? Would you rather be Kottke or Kottke? I stumbled on Leo's site the other day, and had flashbacks to happy childhood hours of listening to The Best (an album my father loved); and even though it's years since I've heard them, every song came tumbling back into my head. Can any website hope to match that?

Similarly, after reading Philip Pullman's masterpiece I'm left wondering why I'm not writing something big, that says something significant about the world, and... I have no answer, except that I'm writing this—and that's the wrong answer.

And yet I can't stop. When I stopped before, I had nowhere to write about the deaths of George Harrison and Stuart Adamson; or before that, nowhere to write about packing up and leaving Oz, or taking that last long drive down the Hume Highway; and those moments have passed, never to be written about in quite the same way I would have. (But once I would have written about these things in a diary, or a letter; why does that no longer feel like an option?)

Worse, stopping would mean pulling out of a circle of friends, new and old, who read this blog in the same way I read theirs—to keep a conversation going, an ongoing buzz of chatter with occasional direct comments back-and-forth. Switching off the comments (which I've also considered—all of those zeroes were looking embarrassing) would be a step backwards for the same reason. But maybe I need to step back...


Quick! Look over there!


The Picture of Rory in Grey

[29 Apr 02] It had to happen some time.

On the bus out to the airport in Dublin, as I was staring out of the window at the sunshine, Jane says, "Oh my God, Rory... I can see a grey hair! Two grey hairs!"

[Imagines entire head of luxurious red locks turning instantly white. Gulps.] "Where?"

"There, on your sideburns."

[Thinks: Oh, is that all. I've spotted grey whisker hairs before. That's not real grey.]

But it's too late. I'm sunk into a deep funk about reaching middle age. Somewhere in the past five years of madly racing around the world and looking for somewhere to stop and catch my breath, I got old.

But my spirits pick up a few days later at a conference dinner, when someone in her late thirties tells me that I look 28 or 29, not 34. Yes! Years of strenuous avoidance of outdoor activities and exertion pay off.

Meanwhile, the picture in the attic slips on his cardigan.


[22 Apr 02] A week away from the machine, and I'm greeted with this (from you-know-where):

There have been 157 links and 3619 comments posted since your last visit

Talk about being dragged back to earth. No wonder they're called anchor tags.


Cold Turkey

[10 Apr 02] This is it. X-Day. My work G4 and home iMac are now both staring back at me with the fuzzy gaze of Mac OS 10.1.3. Goodbye, 9.2.2, we shall not see your like again, except through the stained glass of Classic. I feel like Will stepping through a window into Cittàgazze. Hope there aren't too many Spectres about.


Colour My World

[ 8 Apr 02] As I mentioned last August, we saw some garish colour schemes while looking at flats to buy in Edinburgh. The British seem to have confused home decoration with cookery: how else to explain apricot bathrooms, strawberry living rooms and lime bedrooms (with matching duvet covers, yet)? Spend an afternoon wandering from flat to flat here and you'll see more primary colours than in a primary school art class.

What I didn't reveal was that the flat we ended up buying is a case in point. The colours on our walls are so extreme that they scared off many a potential buyer, which is the only point in their favour: it meant that the flat was available to two Australians desperate to secure a place within ten days of arriving.

The flat was originally owned by a retiree, and decorated accordingly in quiet whites and creams. But the later owners who sold it to us had brightened it up in typical UK 2000s fashion. Thus we have a navy blue bedroom with yellow trim; a purple second bedroom/study; a turquoise living room; and a yellow and red kitchen. If this colour scheme was a recipe it would be psychedelic trifle.

The only room its original colour is the bathroom, but in this case original doesn't mean best. It's green, possibly to match the moss that grows on the outside of Edinburgh's grey stone buildings. Where others associate bathing with cool blue rivers or aqua seas, the original owner of our flat must have associated it with stagnant algae-infested ponds.

Not content to leave well enough alone, the next owners took to the pale green tiles and painted dozens of them dark green, to cover up their old-ladyish but otherwise innocuous floral pattern. Tile paint is a quick and easy way to cover up old tiles, and starts coming off just as quickly and easily, especially in the damp conditions of a bathroom. Starts coming off, that is, but stops short of coming off completely. And nothing says 'clean' like half-visible flowers and flaky bits of paint clogging up the drain.

The kitchen has also been tile-painted—red this time—and the paint is chipping away there too. This and its yellow walls, green lino floor and ratty 1980s cupboards inspired us to do something we never thought we'd do: visit a kitchen centre. The eager sales assistant took down the dimensions of our tiny kitchen, fed our requirements into his modelling software, shuffled simulated cupboards and sinks around within the constraints of plumbing and window positions, and ended up with... a layout identical to our existing kitchen, but with a three thousand pound price tag.

Red and yellow make good kitchen colours, don't you think? Kind of like a taco. Or spaghetti bolognese.

We'll repaint it eventually, at the very least to help sell the flat when the day comes, but for now we'll live with it. Repainting the bathroom, similarly, would involve replacing the toilet, sink and bath, all of which are a matching green, so that won't happen either. Painting the bedroom is more tempting: sleeping in a dark navy room throughout the winter was like hibernating in the Marianas Trench. But since the painted walls extend into the built-in wardrobes, which are inconveniently full of clothes, they can also wait for now.

The purple study is actually the least obnoxious; it's more of a lilac colour, and hardly noticeable behind all of the shelves and desks and bikes and clutter. The turquoise living room, though, is driving us slowly mad. Nothing goes with turquoise, except perhaps gold. Since we couldn't afford gold-plated bookshelves, tables, or chairs, the walls are going under the brush, and soon.

But first off was the one space I haven't mentioned: the hallway joining the various rooms of the flat.

If you've ever decorated, you'll know the contrived names that paints go by. Harvest Fruits. Viennese Truffle. Vapour Blue. Clambake Pink.

Our hallway was Exorcist Green.

That is not the first colour you want to see when you come home every night. It's not the first colour you want your friends to see when they visit. And it was the first up against the wall when the revolution came.

Jane has been preparing and undercoating the hallway and the seven doors leading off it (front door, four rooms, two cupboards) for most of the week, and by yesterday the pea soup fog had finally lifted. Last night it was my turn to slurp on the final coat. After four hours of masking, brushing, rolling and drying, our hall is now a clean and light custardy shade of Pharoah's Gold. From the Exorcist to the Mummy.

We'll go even lighter for the living room, close to the original white that lurks under Montezuma's Turquoise. Once we lose the indoor swimming pool the flat should really start to feel like home.

No doubt the next owner will paint right over it, though, in the Baskin Robbins Flavour of their choice. Why settle for vanilla when you can have Neapolitan?


Glasgow, City of Taste

[25 Mar 02] Went to Glasgow on the weekend to soak up culture, like a deep-fried Mars Bar soaking up oil. Saw some amazing photographs of the Islamic world by Peter Sanders, some entertaining sculpture and collage by David Mach, and some good stand-up by Miles Jupp and Colin Murphy at the Stand. I had vague plans to write a longer review of them, but they stayed vague. In lieu of same, this observation: if you ever want a truly bizarre sandwich experience, head to the Stand for a toasted cheese and hummus ciabatta—the multicultural toastie, from the city that brought you battered pizza.

Further observations on the sorry state of the world (most recently evinced by A Beautiful Mind winning best picture) will be forthcoming as soon as I can get that cheddary chickpea taste out of my mouth.


Kill Your Television

[15 Feb 02] I'm partway through James Gleick's Faster, and it's one of those non-fiction books where reading it feels like staring into a mirror. Obsessive-compulsive behaviour, thy name is Internet.

And yet... I've been thinking lately about what a strange and detached life Jane and I are leading right now, at least by accepted Western standards. Right now we have:

They all count as odd in various ways, even if we have good reasons for not having most of them. I could see getting a microwave for defrosting and reheating, but they never seem important enough to warrant a trip to the white-goods department; we like to cook, with pots and pans and ovens and recipe books. A dishwasher would be convenient too, but there's no room for one in our flat.

Not having a car isn't a problem where we live—the city centre gets jammed with traffic every morning anyway—although we may end up getting one for weekend trips when the weather improves. As for a mobile, the day I need to fill the gap in communications access between leaving work and getting home is the day I book into a shrink.

No, it's the lack of television that puts us squarely into the fringe-dwellers camp. Cut yourself loose from the tube and you're not just rejecting technology, you're rejecting mainstream culture.

Supposedly. I actually know perfectly well who won Pop Idol, because I read the papers. No idea what he sounds like, but that's one mystery I'm happy to file under Blissfully Ignorant About.

What we're really rejecting is the hours of veging out in front of the TV watching utter crap because we're too hypnotised by its unearthly glow to switch it off. Those are hours we can use to do other things: good things, like reading and writing and listening to music and going out and having people over.

I have to admit, though, the temptation is strong. Because it's hard to feel like you're in touch with the society you live in—especially when it's new to you—without that nightly injection of pop culture. Instead of having someone else comb through the news feeds to figure out what the important events of the day were, you have to do it yourself. It takes work, and you end up missing things, either by chance or through too much self-selection. A couple of weeks ago there was one particularly windy day here in Edinburgh; so windy, I heard around the department, that a roof blew off a building on Lothian Road. And that's as far as it affected me; at the end of the day, I went home and forgot about it. It was a week before I learned that those were the worst storms in Britain in a decade.

It's a Victorian sort of existence in many ways—hearing about some things weeks after they happened, or never—which is why Gleick's contrasting of the slow pace of communications a century ago with the instant pace of today strikes a chord. Is it better or worse than the cable-TV-and-DVD existence? Hmmm. On the plus side: no William Shatner documentaries. On the minus side: no William Shatner documentaries, dammit.

And sometimes I'm not sure where all of that 'saved time' has got to. I seem to soak half of it up with surfing the web. I've replaced one sort of 'time out' with another. Surfing the web to find something new, new, new, to fill up an hour in which my brain would otherwise have to think for itself.

Travelling the world to find something new, new, new, to fill up a life...

Man I scare myself sometimes. Bad brain, bad brain.


I Feel Numb

[11 Feb 02] This is the second day in a row where I've woken up face-down and both of my arms have been asleep. Is this a post-twenties thing? Never used to happen to me, and now it happens every month or so. I slide out of a dream into the grey dawn and for a brief moment it's as if someone has amputated both arms and replaced them with floppy silicone replacements. Then I have to roll over—without using my imitation arms—and wait for the nerves to wake up in a tingling wave from the shoulders down. It feels like when I was thirteen and tried to change a light switch without turning the power off at the mains.

I'd ask a doctor about it, but fear the potential for bad puns:

"Doctor, doctor, when I wake up my arms are asleep!"

"That sounds 'armless."

"No, it's awful, I can't feel anything from the shoulders down."

"Once more, with feeling."

"I can't use my fingers or anything!"

"Here, let me give you a hand."

"...You're really crap; have I mentioned that?"

"My, you've got a nerve."


[ 7 Feb 02] So, um, it's probably not wise to let your archiving slide for eighteen months so that you then have to spend evening after evening burning and verifying dozens of CDs and back-up duplicates at 4x speed on a USB burner. For one thing, it cuts down on writing-amusing-things-for-website time.


Pale Shelter

[28 Jan 02] I went swimming yesterday for the first time in several months, at Edinburgh's Royal Commonwealth Pool (built for the 1982 Commonwealth Games; there obviously wasn't a loch handy). It was a surprisingly novel experience: not the swimming, not the Olympic sized pool, but the fact that I wasn't the palest, pastiest looking person there.

Even in Tasmania, which is almost wholly populated by people of pale Anglo-Irish stock, I was always the closest thing to A4 Office Bond at the school pool. Unless it was early in the season before the pool had warmed up, when I'd be more of a bluish off-white.

My Anglo-Celtic-Germanic-Viking ancestry had served as a giant genetic filter, efficiently screening any stray particles of melanin from my skin. Even a whole summer spent underneath an ever-growing ozone hole did no more than turn my arms the colour of pale straw. This was cause for great amusement among the sun-bronzed (or, more often, sun-reddened-and-blistered) kids around me, who would save up this inherently hilarious piece of ammunition for some later battle.

It didn't help me enjoy swimming much, although being forced into an outdoor pool in late spring while the frost was still thawing off the lane-markers didn't help either. But once free of the pressures of the peer group and the PE teacher I liked it fine. Sure, I was still the palest person in the pool on holiday in the tropics or even in suburban Melbourne, but who cared? Those people weren't making unflattering comparisons between my skin colour and an iceberg.

But at some level, I obviously still cared, because now for once the mole was on the other foot. There I was, among my Northern brethren, and for the first time I was the sun-bronzed Aussie. Sort of. On my arms. If you squint a bit, the freckles join up. And see that? That could turn into a melanoma one day.

Ahh, the mighty genetic stock of the conquering tribes of the North. How anyone ever took eugenics seriously, I'll never know.


[25 Jan 02] By a quirk of the round shape of the Earth and the relative positions of Scotland and Australia, for eleven hours it's the national day in both my homeland and my current home: it's simultaneously Australia Day and Burns Night. The former is an excuse for a barbie, sitting around getting pissed, and listening to the Triple J Hottest 100 on the radio. The latter is an excuse for haggis, neeps and tatties, sitting around getting pissed, and listening to earnest recitations of Burns's ode to the "great chieftain o' the pudding race".

As if to remind me that I'm a long way from the southern summer, it snowed today in Edinburgh. I was stuck at work without a camera, and by the afternoon the snow had turned to rain and melted away. But it's inspired me to whip up another impromptu instalment of Detail, with four bandwidth-busting images of the Scottish winter. The first was taken on a foggy evening in Fife and the others one frosty day three weeks ago.

So grab yourself a giant lamb sausage stuffed with oatmeal, sip on a single malt, and sit back and enjoy winter in Scotland.


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