The late 1980s were my undergraduate years at the University of Tasmania, so apart from some short trips in 1988 and 1989 to the mainland and to Fiji, I spent them close to home. As home in those days was the Huon Valley, my main photographic opportunities involved rural domesticity and Tasmania’s southern forests, parts of which I had been visiting all my life.
I’m scanning a lot of old photos at the moment because my photo-taking has slowed down during everyday life at home, but here are a handful from around Edinburgh this month.
In late January 1986 my family drove from the south of France into northern Italy, continuing our grand tour of Western Europe. After skirting Genoa we drove south to Pisa, stopping to take a unique, never-to-be-repeated photo of the leaning tower, and then carried on to Florence, where I fell in love with Botticelli and Michelangelo at the Uffizi, and learned from a newspaper stand that the space shuttle Challenger had just exploded on take-off.
Clive James, as he himself admitted, took longer than expected to leave us, but that doesn’t make waving goodbye to him at the corporeal departure gate any less poignant. There aren’t many writers who feature on my shelves as heavily as he does: when I heard the news on Wednesday I counted twenty volumes, a couple of them omnibuses, which have survived my purges of recent years where books by other once-favoured writers haven’t. Several of those have appeared since he was diagnosed with leukemia in the early 2010s, filled with ruminative poems on mortality and memory that sparkle in the sun like the Sydney Harbour he loved.
The best minds of a generation have not been destroyed by social media. Though it could depend on the generation: boomer memes that helped Scott Morrison in Australia are now helping the Tories.
At the end of our month in Britain in 1985–86, my family and I boarded a ferry from Plymouth to Santander and drove off it into the wintry sunshine of Spain, for two weeks of exploring my first non-English-speaking European country. Heading south to Burgos, we followed a route from there to Cuellar, Coca, Turegano, Segovia, San Ildefonso, Madrid, Toledo, Belmonte, Cuenca, Teruel, Tarragona, Barcelona and Cadaques. I was bowled over by the country’s enormous, sumptuous cathedrals, and by the many immaculate castles dotting its barren landscape. I fell in love with El Greco in Toledo, Velázquez and Goya in Madrid, and Gaudí and Miró in Barcelona, and took numerous photos of castles, Roman ruins, dusty towns and dazzling architecture. The best are on show in part two of the Grand Tour: Spain and the South of France 1986.
I’m not having much luck with web hosts this year. Since moving the site onto a new provider in February when my old one closed, I’ve had to deal with outgoing email not working with my home ISP and mobile, changes to PHP functionality, and—in the past couple of days—a sudden switch on their servers from MySQL to MariaDB, which has broken the aging open-source version of Movable Type that runs this blog:
install_driver(mysql) failed: Attempt to reload DBD/mysql.pm aborted. Compilation failed in require
Now I’m faced with either moving to a new host and going through all of it again, paying US$499 a year for the latest version of Movable Type (eep), or moving the blog onto WordPress, which doesn’t easily support multiple blogs on a single site. I might be able to switch to multisite WordPress and set up subdomains for different blogs (which for the archives will mean getting to grips with URL-rewriting in htaccess), but it’s a hassle I didn’t need when all I wanted was to post a couple of new entries. For now I’ll add them by hand, like I have with this one.
Five years ago I bought a scanner capable of scanning 35mm negatives, and started working through my oldest rolls of film. It takes a while, and once I paused I didn’t come back to them for years, as we had started travelling again and my digital photos were mounting up. Recently I went back to them, though, and kept working my way through the 1980s, beginning with my first trip to Europe with my family in the winter of 1985–86, after our time in Japan.