Monday, December 30, 2019

Wentworth Park

Wentworth Park isn't a suburb it's just a park. Nevertheless it apparently rates its own light rail station. To be fair its a pretty decent sized park.  There are cricketing nets, playing fields, a greyhound track and a large expanse of open grassland where people can come and picnic on warm days, ie when the temperature is several degrees lower than it was on the day I visited.  The light rail actually crosses the park on one of those brick viaducts that reduce local historians to damp pantied ecstasy and, more practically, provide impromptu urinals for people going home from the pub and places to sleep for the local homeless.  The park reaches almost to the waters edge but fortunately there is a series of buildings so that picnickers, sportspeople and the homeless aren't irritated by those pesky harbour views that the people who live in the surrounding flats just have to put up with.

Until recently the park was also the home ground of the Balmain Tigers Football Club.  The club's colours were black and gold as is traditional for sporting teams from the Balmain area.  The club's mascot was the tiger as is also traditional for sporting teams from the Balmain area.  There seems to have been a certain lack of imagination displayed here as is traditional for sporting teams etc etc. The football club's traditions stretch all the way back to 1986 when a British expat noticed the lack of a football team in his area and decided to start one without giving any consideration as to why Balmain had managed to survive over a century of existence without one.  Despite a pretty impressive winning tradition in the lower divisions of the Sydney competition (Sydney has a football competition with actual divisions?) the club was told in 2019 that's its presence was no longer required and that British expats should go back to getting drunk on Bondi Beach where they belong.  Despite the yawning gap left by the absence of the Balmain Tigers Wentworth Park seems to be flourishing on cricket practice and running undernourished dogs in circles.  It is actually an impressively large piece of open ground only a mile from the city.  So large in fact that I decided to leave it and find somewhere smaller. 

The light rail station is surrounded by a thin band of trees and a thick band of apartment complexes that seem to have been designed to prove that high density living can be done with style and taste if the builders think that those purchasing the apartments are likely to be wealthy.  The trees are apparently provided by a volunteer group whose motto is "returning the bush to the city".  They do this by apparently sticking a tree on every piece of open space capable of holding one.  Where there isn't room for a tree they dump a shopping trolley instead.  Although it is possible that these two activities are undertaken by different groups.

I strolled past the trees and shopping trolleys enjoying the interplay of light and shade in the area.  The light is provided by the sun currently clawing its way through a haze of smoke particles so thick that I didn't notice it until I put out my cigarette and realised that the air quality, if anything, got worse.  The shade is provided by vast quantities of concrete twining the area in a Daliesque fashion. The reason for that is because this is where several of the impressive motorways that connect the region are grafted onto Sydney City's nineteenth century streetscape.  This has worked about as well as surgically attaching an octopus tentacle to a person's torso.  You probably get marks for simply achieving it at all.

Past the tortured concrete and handsome apartment blocks with names like Harbour Mill and Private Property - Residents Only one comes to what is either the back end of Ultimo or the front end of Pyrmont and the far more manageably sized Fig Lane Park which has a small open space, some trees and the appropriate sign telling you not to behave in a socially irresponsible manner and to give thanks to the city council for not allowing property developers to build on absolutely every inch of available space.  I burnt some incense and sacrificed a white bull to the genius of the council and moved on to an even more modest park about a block down the road.  There was another sign demanding homage to the council but I had run out of bulls.

The road I was moving down, incidentally was Jones Street.  I was familiar with the other end of this street because my father used to work there for what was at the time the city's most prestigious newspaper (and is now a wretched adjunct to a second rate television station) but this end was new to me.  Once I got away from immediate proximity to the harbour the classy looking apartment blocks petered out to be replaced by older blocks of flats (not apartments, flats) and even some old terrace houses, relics of Sydney's heritage, which for some unaccountable reason hadn't been demolished.  The buildings may be old but I'm sure the prices are right up to date.  I could have gone further but the day was very hot, I was lathered in sweat and also I couldn't be bothered.  So I went back to the light rail station past more randomly installed trees and abandoned shopping trolleys and made my way to somewhere I could get coffee.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

This Should be Brief but Interesting

I hadn't expected to hear from my Tasmanian correspondent again before Christmas.  The last time I had seen her she had been attempting to "prepare" her Christmas turkey and the turkey looked like it was winning.  In fact a more accurate statement might be "I hadn't expected to hear from my Tasmanian correspondent again."  So my surprise when her face, admittedly adorned with scratches and sticking plaster, popped up on my screen was so complete that I almost choked on my ball gag.

"Is this a good time?" she asked.  I hastily disentangled myself from my, ahem, Christmas decorations and indicated that I would be with her as soon as I could possibly could.  After a brief but expensive interlude I invited her to give me the latest news from points south.

"I'm getting into aquaponics," she announced.

"Aquaponics?  Isn't that something to do with fish?" I asked while I googled frantically.

It is indeed.  Aquaponics, apparently involves keeping a bunch of fish in one tub and a bunch of plants in the other.  The plants are watered and fed by pumping the water from the fish tank into the plant tank.  Lest the fish feel a little dehydrated the water is then pumped back again before they start gasping for breath.  Essentially you create a fish/plants feedback loop so that both plants and fish can flourish without too much effort on your part.  Something that takes even less effort is not doing it at all.

While I'm fully supportive of my correspondents efforts to diversify her skill set there were a couple of points which, for the benefit of the fish, I thought needed raising.

"You kill fish," I said. "Your nickname is the mad goldfish butcher of old Hobart town.  What maniac would entrust you with the lives of fish?"

As it turns out the sort of maniac who would take a turtle to Canberra in a bucket.  He is moving to that ill omened city and while his turtle is making the journey with him his aquaponics set apparently required more buckets than he was prepared to purchase.  Thus he has granted the whole set up (two bathtubs, some plants, some piping and a bunch of very doomed fish) to my correspondent to do with as she wishes.  She in turn has promised to do her best to keep the fish alive or at least not actively kill them.  I wonder if she included her dogs in that promise.

The dogs, my correspondent agreed, would be difficult.  Fortunately the one big enough to get into the bathtub with the fish is dopey and amiable whereas the one that would cheerfully go on a piscine killing spree tomorrow is too small to get in.  This at least is my correspondents fond hope.  I could see half a dozen ways that could go horribly wrong and that's even before you factor in her children who combine an artless, childish curiosity with a streak of cold blooded ruthlessness that can give me the creeps even at several hundred kilometres distance.

Still the set up, the plants, the fish and most importantly, the water have all arrived and been installed in various unoccupied parts of my correspondents back yard.  The plants are apparently succulents.  Succulents can best be described as lazy cacti.  They don't have spikes and they don't grow in deserts and once the fish are all dead they won't be growing in my correspondents back yard either.  Speaking of dead fish the below photo was taken just a few hours after everything was installed and I think can be considered the writing on the wall.

Yep, definitely doomed.
In the meantime my correspondent is currently enjoying that brief period between fish acquisition and fish death.  In the longer term the most that can be hoped for is that the whole setup provides the basis for a particularly gruesome science project at school and a couple of cheap meals for the dogs.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Didn't We Do This Last Year?

The signs are all there.  Christmas is definitely coming.  In my block of flats someone has wrapped a bright red strand on tinsel the entire three stories of the stairwell.  It looks like a tapeworm in drag.  The traditionally flatulent perfume commercials have been polluting the television for those who have no time to buy Christmas presents and no inclination to think of what the recipient wants.

Still on the television vomit inducingly twee commercials referencing Santa and gifts (but very rarely Jesus Christ or the salvation of mankind) have been attempting to persuade us that the vast supermarket chains that spend the rest of the year driving farmers into bankruptcy and underpaying their employees are actually offshore subsidiaries of Santa's Elves Incorporated.  Which is nonsense, Santa gets his stuff made in sweatshops in Bangladesh and Cambodia.  Finally my place of employment is preparing to shut down for the holiday period.  What this means is that I still have to do my job but that nobody is around to answer my questions.

Suffused with Christmas spirit (or possibly day drinking) I put in a call to my Tasmanian correspondent.  She was rolling around on the kitchen floor attempting to bludgeon a turkey to death with a gin bottle.  Apparently her turkey cooking last year had been sufficiently successful for a repeat performance to be demanded.  After attempting to get her attention once or twice I gave up and connected with my tech support.

They at least were making an effort to get into the festive spirit; they were passed out drunk on the floor.  A plastic Christmas tree was on fire in a corner of the room and tinsel had been strewn around apparently by firing it out of a cannon.  An automated warning was sounding but I don't speak Belarusian and all I could get was something about a coolant leak.  Hopefully their air conditioning is up and running before the weather warms up.

Finally I tried getting in touch with my New Zealand correspondent.  He's been harder to get hold of lately and not just because he's in New Zealand.  When I demanded an explanation he asked who I was and how I got his number.  I did manage to get through to him on this occasion but all he said was,

"Dear god, the sheep are massing," followed by some unpleasant gurgling noises which I'm putting down to the plumbing.

I have to admit the evidence of my little blog team all enjoying Christmas in their separate ways made me feel nostalgic.  I took comfort from the fact that the closest of them is several hundred miles away from me.  I shall celebrate Christmas in my usual fashion, turning up on the doorstep of such relatives as haven't moved far enough away to avoid my turning up on their doorstep.  There we shall enjoy the socially mandated family time and gift giving and if anybody survives will make insincere statements about how delightful it was and "we must do this more often" before we retreat pale and shaking into our dens to await the new year.


If Jubilee Park light rail station is at the back end of Glebe then the station that at least notionally services the suburb itself can best be described as being at the even backer end of Glebe.  Glebe sprawls and drapes over a low rise and down to Blackwattle Bay.  The busy centre of the suburb is on Glebe Point Road which runs along the rise.  Back down at sea level Glebe light rail station clings to the edge of the mainland looking wistfully up at the collection of flats, heritage buildings shops and houses which form the bulk of the suburb.

Glebe light rail station did once have a particular use for me.  It happened to be about two minutes walk from the home of friends of mine who lived in Glebe.  Recently, however, they moved across town without telling me.  This makes perfect sense because if friends and relatives are going to turn up on your doorstep anyway there seems to be little point in moving.  What it does mean though is that I was going to have to find something else of interest if I wanted this blog entry to be more than two paragraphs long.

With my options wide open I hopped off the light rail, went down some stairs and halted just before I walked out into traffic.  Across the rather busy road was the Glebe foreshore and beyond that Blackwattle Bay itself.  Back in my long distant and sadly not misspent enough youth I once came to a gaming convention at a school that was occupying a rather choice piece of bay side land here.  Time has moved on and the site of the school is now occupied by what announces itself as a secondary college whatever that is.  In case the prospect of harbourside education didn't fill you with excitement a sign pointed the way to Glebe rowing club.  It is a measure of my desperation that I decided that was a good enough destination and I set off eager to see people clambering into long narrow boats and dipping oars into what, with a certain generosity of spirit, I shall designate as water.

Sadly there were no boats in the water when I turned up at the rowing club although there was one up on the wharf getting a rub down and a bag of hay before being put back into the shed.  However a sign invited me to enjoy the Glebe foreshore and a wooden walkway ran along side the salty liquid to facilitate said enjoyment.  Enjoy it I did.  The day was warm, I hadn't dressed inappropriately for once and despite my earlier snarky comment the water was clear enough to see the cans and chip packets resting on the bottom.  I eagerly scanned the water as I strolled along and was rewarded with the sight of a fish.  Then another and another.  There was actually quite a bunch of fish perhaps not quite a school of fish but definitely a secondary college of fish.  Also if I walked along looking at the water I didn't have to look up and see the cement works which stood as a defiant rock against the tide of gentrification sweeping what used to be quite a grotty area.  Having enjoyed my waterside stroll and congratulated the fish on their sheer survivability I recrossed the road and plunged into the inhabited part of Glebe.

One of the genuine pleasures I've had in travelling to these light rail stations has been finding small patches of quiet peace literally within shouting distance of busy roads and everything that accompanies a major city.  I walked along a narrow street with a sandstone cliff on one side and a line of trees on the other.  It was cool, it was quiet, you could hear birdsong.  It didn't really matter that the "cliff" had been cut into the sandstone to make the road and there was a house about twenty feet above my head or that the trees lined the light rail line which meant about ten feet of greenery at best.  Quietness and solitude is best enjoyed when its voluntary.  The thought of living somewhere genuinely quiet and solitary fills me with horror but peace, quiet and leafy green in the immediate proximity of concrete and public transport delights me.

Speaking of public transport I eschewed the light rail and climbed the hill to Glebe Point Road to catch a bus home.  I had just missed the bus I wanted but fortunately the traffic was so heavy that I caught up with it a couple of stops further along.  That's my idea of escaping to the country.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Depeche a la Mode

Normally its pretty quiet at our wargaming club.  We come together over our shared enjoyment of games, not out of some innate desire to bond with fellow humans.  Conversation is limited to the bare minimum required to set up the game and, of course, the soul destroying trash talking as we try and mentally defeat our opponents before the game even begins.  Apart from that the only noises are howls of triumph and the occasional fit of hysterical sobbing.  I'll leave it to your imagination to determine what side of that particular ledger I tend to appear on.

So it came as something of a surprise when one of my fellow gamers approached me and initiated a conversation.  In his defence he's a friend of mine (I can say that because he hasn't yet taken out a restraining order) and so the unexpected lurch into chat could be forgiven.  As I recall the conversation went something like this;

Friend:  You're a fan of Depeche Mode aren't you?

Me:        Not really

Friend:   Do you want a ticket?

Me:        To Depeche Mode?

Friend:   No.

To be honest I frequently have conversations like this but they usually take place inside my head.  This was the first occasion when another human being was involved.  As it happened my friend had acquired a ticket to a Depeche Mode tribute show and to avoid it he had decided to temporarily flee the country.  This left him with the problem of what to do with the ticket.  Enter Neil to take one for the team.  I thought about what I usually do on Saturday nights (watch ancient horror movies on community television) and decided that going to a Depeche Mode tribute show might be of at least equal interest.

Depeche Mode is a band that were around when I was a teenager and I was, vaguely, aware of their existence.  With my fan credentials thus established I made my way to the venue and mingled with a bunch of other people for whom watching a group of people imitate a band from thirty odd years ago was the definition of an exciting Saturday night.  Most of them were roughly my age but were dressed as they would have thirty odd years ago squeezing their bodies into shredded denim and skin tight pvc (ok, actually that was just me).

Did you know that red bull does bitter lemon now?  I do because they were charging $7 a can for the stuff at the venue.  It wasn't bad, not quite what I'm used to because instead of quinine the bitter flavour is provided by Jamaican quassia which is perhaps better known as an insecticide.  Feeling both refreshed and mosquito free I trotted upstairs to the performance area for an evening of electronic synth pop.  I have no idea what that is I just read it off their wikipedia page.

The performance area was appropriately dark with various minions fumbling around on stage hopefully hooking everything up correctly.  It amazes me there aren't more inadvertent electrocutions at concerts.  Eventually, fashionably late of course, not technical people wandered onto the stage and music ensued.  This wasn't the Depeche Mode tribute band but rather the warm up act.  Everybody was very kind and listened politely, some of them even applauded.  The band seemed rather overwhelmed, possibly every performance that doesn't end with a beer can to the head is a good one. 

To pass the time once the warm up band had wandered off to their other jobs in the janitorial field eighties music was played over the sound system.  This was very well received by the audience (including me) to the point that when a song was cut off part way through because the band was ready there was such a howl of protest that they put it back on again.  Eventually though the band (Strangelove by name) managed to squeeze themselves onto the stage and, taking a chance, killed the sound system and replaced it with what I assume were Depeche Mode tracks.

Unfortunately at this point fourteen dollars worth of bitter lemon was catching up with me and my departure for the bathroom pretty much coincided with the appearance of the group I had notionally come to see.  In front of the urinal I couldn't help noticing that I was getting wet.  The automatic flush mechanism was working so enthusiastically that it was hurling small droplets of what, unfortunately, was not entirely water back onto me.  I had little choice but to endure this until I was finished.  Fortunately I was wearing dark clothing.  After my impromptu golden shower (definitely the best kind) I returned to the performance area where Strangelove were working themselves into the electronic synth pop equivalent of a frenzy.

Everybody seemed to be enjoying themselves and in truth so did I.  I wasn't familiar with a lot of Depeche Mode's work but I was surprised at the number of songs I did know (thank you eighties compilation albums) and the band seemed to have their delivery nailed.  Certainly they nailed it to the satisfaction of a tone deaf fifty year old with only the vaguest knowledge of Depeche Mode and I can't say better than that.  The band played for the best part of two hours and you could stay and drink at the venue for a while after that.  I didn't stay, at present my endurance is not great and I was pushing the limit of collapsing onto the floor as it was (which would have been embarrassing on two bitter lemons).  Instead I popped into Newtown for coffee and lemon meringue pie just before the cafe closed at midnight.