five months…

books by greg bear

…since I last blogged. In that time much has happened: had bookcases made, unpacked books, got a new car, even trimmed some hedges. Posts for another day but figured today I try yet another take on five things as I came across an old post of stuff:

in transit

Being overprepared and early does wonders for keeping me relaxed. A moment of panic initially when the 10.18 train from Mittagong was running 15 minutes late…and increasing. I was planning on catching the 10.47. Curiously, there were two trains half an hour apart…then a 2 hour gap to the next one. My partner gave me a lift to the station and I had a couple of backup plans including driving to Sydney and getting a train from Stanmore where I used to park for work long ago. Had the time if that option was required.

All was well. The 10.18 was ultimately cancelled and the 10.47 was a mere 5 minutes late. A change at Macarthur, then put my backpack on on approach to Domestic and hooned through the corridors to checkin just like old times. No queues anywhere whatsoever. No queue to get baggage tag (had checked in yesterday via app), no queue to drop luggage, not even a queue at the security gate. I figured that might be the case but wanted to be cautious. Here I am flight side, having brekky and a coffee with 2.5 hours to spare.

Getting the foundations right for this trip gives me time to breathe. I need to work out ways to rebuild my resilience and this trip is a good start. I need to handle challenges better as I’m a wee bit rusty.

it’s late and this is a test

Oddly, I don’t seem to use my desktop computer on the weekend. This has been happening for a while and I don’t think I’ve really adjusted to that idea mentally.

It’s late, I’m in bed, and in a mood to blog. Possibly nonsense.

A fun day. Starting with brekky in the local cafe…a cafe that I’d been keen to be a regular at for years…and now I am. Coffee is good.

A drive north to the big smoke and the spectacle of wandering around a massive shopping centre. Bought DVDs + pants. Then drove home for dinner and movies.

Basic. Relaxing.

the long pandemic

More than two years later and I’m still tired. I never seem to quite escape some sense of continuing exhaustion. 2020 was hard, increased workload and no big holiday to break it up. 2021 no big holiday. 2022 no big holiday. I read Con’s blog from yesterday and her comment about “skirting around the edges of burnout” rang a little true.

I was thinking last year, I needed to find a new way of having a mental reset – that used to be big holidays for me, roaming about in other countries. I still haven’t found a new way yet but I do at least have some sort of balance to carry me on. I’m trying to move myself out of a mental limbo. I’m not even sure how well I’d cope with a big trip currently. My first trip out of the state in a couple of years is next week…will see how that goes. Hoping for a few days away in August too…really should make it to Queensland and see my cousin’s kids, don’t think I’ve met the second child.

I recall that some of my more intense changes have been associated with traumatic times. The year that dad died, I threw myself outward, wrote a conference paper, joined a conference committee, found new directions. Looking back at the last couple of years I have actually been moderately successful at pushing out. In 2020, mid lockdown, I went for a job at the NLA. Missed out, I suspect my lack of people management experience coming to the fore. It felt good however to sell myself in a new context, revisit why I do what I do.

Weirdly, I’ve been at the State Library around 11 years now, 10 in my current job. I’ve had 3 job title changes in those 10 years :-) Oddly I am still happy and there continue to be new challenges. We sold property and bought property, moved house…I seem to be working through some sort of checklist of things not to do during lockdowns and pandemics.

Online meetings have been fine, and hybrid meetings have improved greatly. Kudos to our tech folk for the leaps forward. In the first year, that mix of physical and digital was ok but folk onsite would chitchat while folk online watched, not hearing stuff well, feeling remote in multiple ways. These days, there are better screens in the meeting rooms, there are multiple microphones on the desk, better tech and software integration, better audio, better sound. I don’t feel remote anymore, I feel part of the flow of the meeting and can chip in with related or unrelated comments in a way that feels natural.

I go into the office 1-2 days a week and I am finding I am being proactive in ensuring I talk with people physically, I make sure I visit branches and other parts of the library, being more welcoming and open to impromptu conversations. Finding my own sort of balance across multiple spaces and making sure I feel engaged. Pre pandemic, I wasn’t as fussed and could sit at my desk for days without any sort of physical communication. I think that may be an interesting outcome of pandemic times, pushing to ensure time together is not wasted.

we’re not in kansas anymore

snail rain gauge in garden

My big news of recent months is that I’ve escaped to the country! I’ve spent my entire life living in various parts of Sydney and have tried to leave many times. This time, I’ve succeeded and moved to the Mittagong area of the Southern Highlands. There’s a family connection nearby and it’s not too far from Sydney.

Having spent a couple of years working from home and dealing with Sydney traffic which has worsened over the years, I was even keener to leave. I put my flat on the market last year and following some negotiation was able to sell it to my tenant. I had moved out several years earlier to live with my partner and their kids. We’d been keeping an eye on the market down south and were able to buy a place within our budget when the right one popped up.

train arriving at Mittagong train station

It’s a bigger place than we’re used to but with a decent garden and a bunch of hedges…well kept and shaped hedges are rather common and there’s something of a Scottish/English feel to the area. We have multiple fruit trees as well. The first time we entered the property we felt calm and at ease…and that remains the case a few months later.

Distance-wise it’s about an hour and 20 minutes drive from Sydney by car, or around 2 hours 20 minutes on the train to work. I can shorten that travel time by around 20-30 minutes if I drive to Macarthur and get a train from there – that also means I’m not dependent on the infrequency of the Southern Highlands trains which run about once an hour. I’m sorta hoping that covid-related working from home continues so I don’t have to commute too often. I am currently going into the office 1-2 days per week. The worst case is that I return to the office fulltime which will hurt a little but is manageable. I love my job too much to give it up.

drive by

Had a bit of fun yesterday and stood out near the side fence to watch a steam train go by. Steam train trips are a regular thang and local folk often like to pop out to watch them go by. We opened the gate in our side fence and popped out for a sticky beak. Fun times on a Saturday afternoon.

Steam train in the Southern Highlands
steam train passing through the Southern Highlands

#blogjune returns…perhaps?

Here we are, year 13 of #blogjune


In recent years I have become increasingly vague and nebulous around my energy and willingness to participate in #blogjune. In 2021 I commented

“If I am in the mood, there will be posts. If I am not in the mood, there may not be posts.”

and in 2019

“Some years I do, some years I don’t. Some days matter and some don’t.”

…and yet I persist though there seems no rhyme nor reason as to my June posting tally as these figures show

June Posting Figures

Time will tell as to whether there will be more posts….

taking things slow

It’s hard to think of interesting things to say. A couple of years at home and most regular chatting is with family or work. Sydney has had it much easier than other places, especially Victoria, yet somehow I’ve been extra cautious anyway…spent bulk of year easing toward normality then all of a sudden lockdown 2. It seemed harder this time. Last time, I tried to imitate normality, even weekend brekkies in the car. This time I had brekky at home and left house a lot less. Also I lived in an LGA of concern which meant extra limits and a 5km radius.

Lockdown is over and while still cautious, I am moving a little quicker to get out more. Caught up with a few friends last week, some of whom I hadn’t seen in nearly 2 years, and others a year ago. Yesterday, we made it down to Bowral to my partner’s mother’s place; we were last there in June pre lockdown. Every time I walk into the Bowral house, I relax and feel at ease. I have missed visiting. I don’t do phonecalls well though new hearing aids means I handle calls so much better – except everyone is used to me not handling phonecalls and old habits die hard :)

Last lockdown it was a few months before I returned to the office one day a week – that was too long and I don’t think the absence was healthy. This time round I’m returning within a few weeks and this week will be my first back in the office. I love working from home, when there are options for getting out; less fun when you’re stuck and every day is the same.

Sydney film festival has started and I am missing it this year. Last year we watched it virtually, this year it’s in person but I’m not making it at all. Too soon after lockdown. It’s a lot of people at once. I do not want to deal with whatever a filmfest people crush looks like in the time of covid. Because deafness, I need to ask people to remove masks so I can hear them…which ain’t fun for other people currently.

rusty taps

My focus for now is low key catch ups with people close.

My focus is also books. As always. Reading and buying.

Dune. Centipede Press have finally put up for sale their edition of Dune. As noted elsewhere, I was on the pre-order list for years. 2 weeks ago, it was released. There were 800 people on the pre-order list and around 570 copies up for grabs (500 numbered but first 100ish to subscribers, 421-500 for other distributors; 250 unsigned/unnumbered). I had no idea where I was in the queue and emails were sent out in batches of 200, starting from 2.30am Sunday morning Sydney time.

I am happy to report that I was in the first batch and my paypal receipt notes that my purchase was finalised at 2:31:48am :-) Turns out a couple of years is a long time on a mailing list, especially one that includes COVID-19. When I first went on the list I think pricing was anticipated around US$400, and the final price was US$625 and almost everyone on the list, or at least almost everyone on the list in the relevent facebook group, managed to get a copy.

Most expensive book I have ever bought but it’s worth it for Dune and Centipede is one of my favourite presses for producing amazing books with good paper and binding choices. The downside is that it is book 1 of 6 (by Frank Herbert) and I will be getting the other 5 (not sure what the schedule but one a year perhaps is realistic). Within 24 hours, someone had sold a copy for US$2,500 (4 times the cost) which doesn’t really surprise me.

stops and starts

Weirdly, suddenly I stopped blogging mid #blogjune, the last post about was on the 18th. I don’t know why I stopped as I had plenty of ideas and for the first time in a while there was a good vibe and interaction with other folk, nice chats here and there. Somehow my mojo disappeared. That may have been around the time of the current Sydney getting underway, though why that would affect this sort of thing I dunno. The new playstation didn’t arrive till 10 days later so that wasn’t it either. Things were exhausting for a while but June often is.

New playstation has been fun, impressively fast loading of games and whisper quiet – well my hearing ain’t fab so it’s quiet to me. On the other hand, the previous playstation was noisy and loud to deaf old me.

Books, lots of books. Though less arriving than usual. Perhaps my ordering splurge has died off and sanity returned. Perhaps. I am aware that a few boxes are on their way. Folio Society have reprinted their editions of Asimov’s initial Foundation trilogy. I missed out first time round and the prices on the secondhand market have been significantly higher than I’d be willing to pay. While the reprint is a little ecky, it works out at high double figures per book which is bearable. I’m looking forward to re-reading them as I first read then in dodgy secondhand paperbacks 30 years ago.

Managed to finish a bunch of books in recent weeks:

  • In Darkness Visible by Tony Jones – the second book from the former host of Q&A, also good, a political thriller.
  • The Midnight Library by Matt Haig – I liked it but didn’t love it which probably puts me at odds with everyone I know. A pleasant read nonetheless.
  • The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Zafon – third book (of four-ish) in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books series. Each book seems interconnected though there is a sense they could be read in any order, or at least the first three as I have not yet read the fourth which is generally regarded as the best. Sadly the author died last year.
  • Assail by Ian Cameron Esslemont – the “final” of Esslemont’s main Malazan series, though there is another trilogy later still to read (and some more Erikson). Assail was a good solid read that flowed along. Every so often I hit a point where I need to another Malazan and this filled the hole nicely.
  • The Gold-Jade Dragon by Janeen Webb – tales of dragons and human forms, playing with politics and business. An easy read that flowed along, quickly and enjoyably finished. There was a previous novella, The Dragon’s Child, that should be read first.
  • The Last Days of New Paris by China Mieville – a novella that reminded me of the things I love about Mieville and how inventive he can be. A surrealist story about surrealist thinking, told surreally, with a political undercurrent.
  • The Fifth Season by NK Jemisin – loved it though it took a while to get into as it was telling a story through different times with changing narrators of sorts. Needless to say I’m looking forward to continuing the trilogy.

Other books on the go or at the top of the reading queue

  • Walking Home: Travels with a Troubadour on the Pennine Way by Simon Armitage – almost finished, doesn’t need to be read in one hit, I dip in and read a chapter occasionally, not looking forward to finishing it :)
  • The Old Drift by Namwali Serpell – a recommendation from a friend, finally bought the ebook last night.
  • The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North – a new take on the Groundhog Day idea perhaps. Mentions of it popped in discussion of a new pretty edition of Replay by Suntup.
  • The Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler – this seemed an appropriate choice for my first letterpress book. I am unsure whether letterpress books are a thing I will seek out and the books I like are rarely published this way. I started it last night and so far so good.
  • Unfettered II: edited by Shawn Speakman – I bought the fancy edition of this because I like and respect the cause it’s raising money for. I also like Grim Oak Press generally and have several of their books. I’m about midway through anthology of fantasy and stories I’ve read here have read to me buying and reading other books.

a room with a chair

I sat down to type about books and saw Kathryn’s post about a chair and immediately changed direction. I have a favourite chair and it is just right for me. I came across it in a furniture shop long ago and had to have it. I bought it and paid for it and waited for it to be made.

The chair is colourful and comfy. The wings are not pronounced which is a plus as I can’t lean my head against them – leaning my head against people and objects is sometimes tricky due to the ever-present hearing aids in my ears.

I love sitting in my chair and a year or two later, the company produced a matching foot stool and I was in heaven. It’s a lovely spot to sit and read, with bookcases beside, or watch tv, or sip a whisky.

The view from the chair down the wall is of some of my favourite books….including Trixie Belden in the distance. On the opposite wall is a print of a Cezanne that dad picked up at an exhibition long, long ago. He used to have it stuck on the wall. After he died, I had it framed properly and I love staring into it, studying and dwelling in the unfinished village.