Today I left the house and associated with people. In the flesh. The idea of a flesh meeting sounds rather dangerous and subversive in these strange times. People not my family, not in the supermarket.
Sydney is slowly reopening, venues moving from takeaway to sittings to “please stay”. Last week I had brekky in a cafe and not in the car. Radical.
This week I went to a brewery. So many people in one place, relaxing. Oddly. Mobile details at the entry for tracking – weirdly it feels ok and not like the State is tracking my movements. To be fair I suspect the State could do that easily via other means. Right now, it seems an easy entry point for hanging in a bar with friends.
I had a quick trawl through twitter between watching a filmfest film and doing the washing up. Ian Holm died, though at 88 was well lived. I’m more familiar with Holm’s work but was I think, a little sadder to hear of the passing of Carlos Ruiz Zafón at the age of 55. He died not of covid-19 but after two years of suffering with colon cancer. He is only four years older than me.
I have read a few of his books, loving the Shadow of the Wind and The Angel’s Game. He aimed to write a four book series, the third being The Prisoner of Heaven, while the fourth, The Labyrinth of the Spirits, was published in English two years ago. All is well, the series was completed. I have read the first twice and the second once but haven’t got round to reading the other two. When I got the third I meant to re-read from the start and the fourth came out in the Subterranean Press edition last year so I now have them all in SubPress editions. I am long overdue to return to this world and these books and the mind of Zafón. Somewhere along the way, I picked up another special edition of The Angel’s Game…I think I saw it in Waterstones in London some years ago. I probably should pass it on as I feel duplication is unnecessary.
…or at least the mainstream. I read yet another article today about the decline of newspapers and particularly regional newspapers. Many regional newspapers are owned by larger groups and when the owner strikes problems and advertising revenue dries up, particularly at the moment, then papers get cut. This seems to lead to an increasing domination of the city papers which in turn results in a reduction in awareness of local issues and local connection ie the local newspaper is one part of the glue that connects folk together and gives them a shared space of sorts.
Libraries are another part of that glue, providing a welcoming space for all, free from commercial demands. It’s a place that’s not trying to move you on to make space for a paying customer, or sell stuff to you. Libraries are a mix of spaces: some quiet some noisy, places to meet, to relax, to read, to chat, to hang, even to snooze. They provide a community hub and remain one of the few free indoor spaces that people can gather and chat.
There are online hubs too, though predicated on the basis that the community has access to online material, the digital divide remains ever prevalent with some communities having better access than others. Once again, libraries may well be the only place that folk are able to use a computer, or access content online.
Over the years, there has been a rise in “pay it forward” groups on facebook for example in communities across Oz eg Port Macquarie, Inner West of Sydney, or Perth. These groups provide on one hand an opportunity for folk to clear out stuff, and on the other, an opportunity for folk to get things they need. A sharing space for advice and tips, increasing reuse and recycling.
I recall years ago, when a colleague and I ran a minecraft session as part of International Games Day, we didn’t get great numbers. A parent who turned up, commented that we should have promoted to some of the parenting groups on facebook. They’d only heard about the games day accidentally but were in a facebook group of several thousand parents in western Sydney. Sure enough, nationwide, there are millions of parents participating in such groups and finding folk to hang with.
In some respects, facebook groups remind me a little of usenet of old with a mix of general and specific. Some groups have strict rules for engagement and keeping on topic while others ebb and flow depending on where the commonality lies. The challenge with such groups is that facebook is a bit of a closed shop, you’ve got to be on it, with an account to see many of the groups, and participate. At the same time, it’s not quite like the AOL of old with that being the only platform, facebook groups tend toward a gated feel rather than closed though the latter exist too. They can be inclusive and exclusive.
Another day, another delivery, this time the 2 volume short story collection by Kate Wilhelm. I think I’ve read a story or two by her and I’m aware of her name as she had a long history as a writer including SF, picking up various Hugo and Nebula awards. An author perhaps I should read more of. And now I can.
It was pointed out to me that I don’t seem to read a lot of short stories these days and there is truth to that comment. Yet I continue to buy short story collections and compilations. I remember growing up in my teens and 20s, devouring one short story collection after another, that was my introduction to the world of science fiction’s golden age. Favourite authors from that era include Asimov and Bester, Simak and Sturgeon, Clarke and Dick, and of course the mighty Ray Bradbury.
I loved a tightly written short story. That sense of a piece of writing being the right length for the story, minimal padding, no expectation nor requirement of a novel length work. You’d read one, then another, then another, some bite size, some longer, always in a single sitting. Ideas abounded, varying perspectives, as you jumped from one to another. Playing with ideas and creations, sometimes beasts of the id, sometimes far flung worlds, different places, different races.
In recent years, perhaps decade, I have acquired special editions of short stories by Philip K Dick (5 volumes from Subterranean Press), the occasional collection of Greg Egan (also Subterranean), Australian authors (from PS Publishing), and Ray Bradbury (PS Publishing, Subterranean Press). A few years ago, Centipede Press started publishing their series, Masters of Science Fiction, of which the Kate Wilhelm books were the latest. Previous releases in the series included works by James Patrick Kelly, Fritz Leiber, and Richard Wilson.
The nice thing about these books, which makes them easy to buy is that they’re relatively cheap, typically $40-50 per volume for a nicely bound collection. The Kate Wilhelm set was $95 in total for two volumes, filling 1,500 pages of stories. I haven’t read many of the stories in this series but I want to. They’re there on the shelf. Waiting for me.
Now there’s a name. A significant name, a philosopher, author of The Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital, a leader. I read the manifesto a long time ago and other writings here and there. Dad read a lot of his stuff and had many of his books. In the 70s, my dad started out a baptist minister, became an atheist in the middle and joined the communist party and at some point moved from communism to socialism. He read a lot and talked a lot, discussing his ideas and thoughts.
From a young age, I can remember the colourful display of Marx books on the shelf together. I wouldn’t say it’s my earliest memory of him but it’s possibly a constant of sorts in my life of knowing dad. I could spot that little row of books and I knew I was in dad’s space. I have toyed with different ideas for displaying them though none carried out as yet. Many years back, I liked the idea of sticking them together as a block in a perspex box to hang on the wall. That idea of moving them from textual works to an art of sorts seems appropriate given the nature of my memory of their physicality. Taking that a step further, I have also considered sticking them together, slicing off the spines and framing them as a single, flat, colourful strip. For now they sit in a glass cabinet alongside the whisky.
For mum, memories are different. She was more of an introvert and a bit of a hoarder perhaps or more that sense of thrift of her parents passed down, the idea of not tossing things that could be useful. Her favourite takeaway was from the local red rooster: two pieces of chicken and chips. Even when she was in the nursing home, we would take that in for her on her birthday. These takeaway meals usually included cutlery and moist wipes. When cleaning out the old house, we found lots and lots of plastic forks and packets of wipes. Though I don’t think I have any in the drawer myself, plastic forks remain a visual reminder of my mother.
I continue to be fascinated by the sense of being the melting pot of my parents: a thing from her, a thing from him. This thing I am has all those things though not necessarily in the same measures.
Back in March, we started to get things ready in anticipation of going into lockdown and work from home at some point. At the encouragement of my partner, I bought a pair of comfy sneakers so I could get some regular exercise (sort of successful) and even a haircut kit (with shaving heads of various sizes) so that I could continue to have haircuts at home. I don’t have a lot of hair and usually visit a barber for a number 4 head shave every 6-8 weeks. 3 months into iso and I haven’t actually used that kit yet and now have about 4 months of growth. It doesn’t look good, it’s not comfortable, and worse, I have occasionally bumped the volume button of my hearing aids, when patting down my hair. I suspect there will be a haircut in the near future and I reckon that’s not a bad idea.
When lockdown was finally announced, I was able to pop into work on the first day and grab my computer and a few other things. I then remembered the one thing I couldn’t prepare for: what to do about lunch. I’m not a fab cook, or food prepper; I usually get lunch from one of the takeaway food halls near the office. That option disappeared with lockdown. A few months prior we had moved house too and no longer had easy access to a bunch of takeaway places.
There are two places around the corner, a few minutes walk away. One fancy and one basic, both Chinese. I love Chinese but a bit of variety would have been nice, some Indian perhaps, Thai, Japanese and so on. Oh well. So Monday to Friday, I pop into the basic Chinese place and grab a meal to take home. Over 3 months, I have worked through almost all of their lunch menu and have a bunch of favourites. I usually try and have at least one new dish a week. They are the main people I see apart from my family on a daily basis and if I ever return to the office I will miss them.
We occasionally get a takeaway meal from the fancy place too, usually to coincide with virtual trivia hosted by the guy who ran the pub trivia we used to go to. It’s been nice to have his face and voice beaming into our home. I miss the pub visits though and hanging out with friends. While the sound is better at home, I’d rather have physical company and not hear half the stuff; the warmth of people and incidental humour.
I have had an amazon account for many years dating all the way back to 2007. My early days perhaps of online ordering. I remember being amazed at how cheap books were compared to book prices in Australia. It reminded me a little of my overseas trips in 1999 and 2000 from each of which I came home with lots of books. Indeed I have old recollections of book reviewers noting in their articles of trips to the UK being a chance to buy lots of books, some of which were never available here, and all much cheaper there than here.
For a long time the Australian book market was something of a closed shop with high prices charged which you only realised if you were lucky enough to be afford a trip overseas. The opening of online sites for purchasing books overseas changed things and I think ultimately has meant book prices here have dropped significantly. Scary times for a while with local bookshops closing.
Trawling back through my blog to that year of 2007, I found an account of my desire to purchase the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. At the time, given a favourable exchange rate (about 86 cents to the AUD) I was able to purchase the leatherbound edition from Amazon for about AUD$270 altogether. It was selling locally for $1,000. I don’t say this to single out oxford as many publishers seemed to be doing the same thing. I think the Shorter did drop to around $3-400 locally some years later.
I don’t buy much from Amazon these days, and while I like to check booko for comparison pricing, both new and secondhand, for new stuff at least, I tend to buy locally from Booktopia. Pre-lockdown I would also buy books in person from the likes of Better Read Than Dead and Abbey’s.
My wishlist on Amazon remains, and has around 170 or so entries, dating all the way back to 2007. Entries have disappeared as I’ve purchased them either from Amazon or elsewhere. One thing I liked about Amazon’s system is that it would remind me if I had already purchased a book – this was important as I didn’t always remember and there was a period of some years when most of my books were in boxes and I couldn’t easily tell if I had a title or not. If I purchased a book elsewhere I would eventually get round to manually removing it from Amazon.
I don’t intend to list every book I listed as I suspect that would be a little dull so I will try and do something of a potted selection. Onward to 2007 when Library 2.0 was in full swing and the oldest book in my list was:
Social Software in Libraries: Building Collaboration, Communication, and Community Online by Meredith Farkas – I think I have this now though it might be on desk at work.
Teaching Web Search Skills: Techniques And Strategies Of Top Trainers – Greg Notess – I vaguely recall reading posts of his but never got round to getting the book
Information Trapping: Real-Time Research on the Web by Tara Calishain
The Origins of Modern Science by Herbert Butterfield – I have a secondhand copy of his work “The Whig Interpretation of History” which I read when I was studying for my HPS major. When I did my library Master’s, I created an index for it.
Laboratory Life: The Construction of Scientific Facts by Latour and Woolgar – more HPS stuff
A History of Natural Philosophy: From The Ancient World To The Nineteenth Century – Edward Grant – a strong writer in the field
On Tycho’s Island: Tycho Brahe, Science, and Culture in the Sixteenth Century by John Robert Christianson – never did get round to buying this though I studied quite a bit on Brahe.
Cellarius Atlas (Harmonia Macrocosmica of 1660) by Robert van Gent – I had a bit of a fixation with atlases at the time, also listed for 2007 is the Atlas Maior
A Guide to the Oxford English Dictionary by Donna Lee Berg – that entry was added to the list a couple of weeks after I purchased the Shorter Oxford
The wishlist for 2007 was a mix of my interests at my time: Library 2.0, History & Philosophy of Science, and dictionaries, 23 books listed in all.
Some years for #blogjune, I maintain a list of notes and phrases, bits of writing semi formed, reminders, subjects, random ideas passing through my mind. Sometimes I remember to go through the list looking for things to flesh out, or ideas. One of the items is to simply blog about the list itself and in listing, perhaps add a little.
A Gentleman in Moscow – a book, perhaps an interesting quote. I have a quote in mind that in turn points to other thoughts
My amazon wishlist – I rarely buy from there these days, preferring booktopia and small presses. The wishlist remains a curious sort of bookmarking over time: why this book, why that one?
“official” hashtags – and perhaps typos for other conversations
Dad’s collection of books by Marx as a visual reminder of times with dad
plastic forks as a reminder of Mum
collectivitis and when it gets out of hand…too many books, whaddya mean?
how many boxes does an author take – notes on moving house
post modern earth – worlds like Shannara which are set against a backdrop of the modern earth being the ancient ruins amongst which folk roam. Other examples include The Last of Us, Horizon Zero Dawn, books by GR Kesteven (a childhood memory)
what I like about special editions: ribbons and leather, fonts and colour, slipcases, solidity. Perhaps even getting custom slipcases made…
…segue toward 17th century, or thereabouts, practices around book binding…where the books were sold with the expectation that the owner would have them bound according to their needs.
highlight nice books from my collection – seems pertinent in the age of lockdown when I can have but few friends over. To be honest, even in the old days, I tended not to show and tell, as friends are not about possessions.
“2 tarts on a couch” a sculpture – this one is challenging, emotive, full of history, and particularly of my dad. It’s an interesting sculpture, with a certain cheekiness that encouraged reaction and response; dad loved watching how people responded to it: being caught between instinct and shock, followed by a sense of “how I should respond” vs “how should I be seen to be responding”. It’s a work that is a little discomforting. It has been a cardboard box for many years and I am not the right person to display it.
Coffee. Some days I need a cup in the morning, some days I don’t. Regardless of need it remains a nice habit to have a warm drink at my side as I work. Other parts of that routine is the buying or the making, and the pathways one follows: mentally, physically, perhaps in rare moments, metaphorically.
A thing I miss working from home, is the morning stroll from the station in Martin Pl, across Macquarie St, waiting forever for the lights to change. Pre coffee 90 seconds of standing at the crossing takes much, much longer. Crossing and sauntering between sandstone buildings as I wander on to the grounds of the eye hospital, out the back, opposite the fountain (which was not running in summer though it remains a grand sight), to the cafe in the courtyard. The same staff, Italian I think. They greet me, we humour each other, though they have more to say than I. This is ever my lot.
I visited the other day. I had to pop into work, to the building. I parked nearby and though running later than planned, I stopped by and ordered my usual. They were still there, still going, carrying on: convivial, relaxed, friendly. A retreat from the world.
Weirdly it feels like it’s been a long, hard week. Yet I only worked four days, Monday being a public holiday. Work wasn’t stressful though there was plenty to do. Spent a chunk of today in a rather exhausting task of chasing down 31 order numbers for a single invoice. Was happy to get them as a single invoice as in years gone by they were many. But still a bit of work, particularly as I would normally check the print file for what was used the year before. This time round, it was a combo of email archive trawling, system lookups, and cross comparisons, trying not to get lost in the sea of open windows.
This year everything is a little different and I’ve been occasionally surprised at where I have been dependent on print resources for a job that is otherwise mostly online. This is one such time however and decided to add a section to my annual budget spreadsheet for order numbers. I use the sheet as a template every year for tracking payments and such, it makes good sense to have the key data in one place. I am remain wary of the cult of spreadsheets where everything ends up in many spreadsheets in many places. However in this instance at least I think it will streamline one of the more manual aspects of my job.
I had hoped to give myself an early mark today and instead worked my longest day of the week. June is a funny month with the end of financial year looming round the corner, ever present in everything I do. It can be fun and tiring and interesting and boring…and occasionally quiet though mostly not.