Sunday, July 30, 2006

You're not wearing nylon underwear, are you? It disintegrates at high speeds.

I had a long meeting today with the chap writing the social history of women's swimming during Edwardian times. Sitting on the edge of Richmond Green, he said that when the great Thames swims of that time were held (beginning near Richmond Bridge), enormous crowds would assemble to watch the competitors working their way along the river for miles. Crowds larger than the combined sizes of modern football finals, Wimbledon and other such sporting events. Crowds even larger than those who assembled to watch Bondi take a cooling plunge in the river later that afternoon.

I found the above photo of my great grandmother online this morning, and then an entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography. If I can get access to the trunk of her personal journals, clippings etc when i get back to Sydney, we should be able to expand the historical record significantly. There are many fascinating aspects to the story of these pioneering women, not least in the positive role they had for demonstrating their physical equality with men (whom they often competed against successfully) in the lead up to English women's suffrage.

I've just been half-watching the original version of Bedazzled (1967), with Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. Towards the end there are some scenes where Peter Cook ("I'm the Horned One. The Devil. Let me give you my card.") is visiting God, who appears to live in the Palm House at Kew Gardens, just across the river from me. God is voiced by Valentine Dyall, who seemed to have had a thing for posing as powerful entities in his later career, serving as both the Black Guardian in the Doctor Who Key to Time series, and as Deep Thought in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Dudley Moore's love interest is played by Eleanor Bron, who suitably played Patsy's mother in Absolutely Fabulous, and had some Doctor Who roles.

I had an idle thought that if Comic Relief were to ever do another Doctor Who spoof, akin to their wonderful Curse of the Fatal Death, I'd like to see Vicky Pollard as the Doctor's assistant. A Dalek face-off would be essential.

This explanation of data compression using Vicky-speak is nearly as interesting as the sofa constant, which I hope is couched in terms that you'll find comfortable.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Tennis, tavern and tales of long ago

Very brief bout of tennis tonight - after half an hour of batting balls around in the rapidly diminishing twilight, we retired to the Ealing Park Tavern for some pops and a bowl of water. Chris has been complaining that he's only appeared 0.021 times in the blog, and so as a token of love (nooooo, not fear of wrathful retribution) I've done this dumb collage to show that he is truly dynamic and has a lervly smile. OK you can let go of my arm now. owwwwwwww

FYI Bondi's lousy at darts.
In other news, I've been contacted by a man who is writing a book about the rapid development of women's swimming in the UK during the first decade of the 20th century.

He is keen to learn about my great grandmother, Melbourne-born Beatrice Kerr. She toured through South Australia and Western Australia, competing in swimming matches (always winning) and demonstrating her aquatic technique. She then passed through Africa and arrived in the UK, 100 years ago this month. I've learnt from newspaper reports that at one of her first appearances in the north of England, 30,000 spectators turned up to watch her swim around a lake. This at the tender age of 17.

Sixty years on, the last picture shows her holding me, next to my parents and grandmother. I'm not sure who the stooped gent is...maybe her diving instructor. 

[Postscript: it’s my great grandfather Walter Pearson]

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Five week forecast

More lazy-ish days in the London heat. I took Bondi to Harmondsworth this afternoon for a plunge in the stream. He waded about noisily for a time, but it didn't seem to really cool him off. After some encouragement he lay down mid-stream and let the cool current embrace him while he attended to the dragonflies and dandelion balls hovering all around.

I've got a sketchy timetable for my trip up north. First a weekend in York where Chris had done his studies: Bondi & I will drive up and Chris will join us via train. Then we'll begin our Hadrian's Wall walk from Newcastle-upon-Tyne to Carlisle. Chris will come back up for a second weekend in Newcastle, which also happens to be his family stamping grounds. After that I think a little more mosying around the Yorkshire Dales and the Lakes District and back to London.

Early September will be time to do some classical promming - especially with Phillip visiting from Sydney. I'll then go back to Sydney mid-September and stay 4-6 weeks to organise a better UK visa (which is something you cannot do from inside the UK). So if anyone has a room to let/spare near Newtown area (preferably with wireless broadband, and car-parking easy to manage) between mid-Sept and late-October I'd love to hear about it!
It's another warm sticky night. Chris and I each radiate heat, so I trek downstairs to finish my book: Alexander Masters' disturbing biography Stuart: A Life Backwards, telling the tale of a man on the social margins, who discovers at age 11 that violence is his ticket out of the harrowing circumstances of his early years, and unravels with great ferocity through to the end of his short life. It's all overlaid with conversations between Alexander and Stuart, in their chafing collaboration on telling this story.

So I'm not going to sleep any easier. After Stuart I'll be thinking of the troubled lightbulb-eating, self-harming kids who disappeared amongst whispers when I was at school; of the wild-eyed people who wandered in off the street while I worked a night-shift at a city cinema: they'd kick a wall a few thousand times, or tell you the same story they told you every
other shift they found you; of the countless more
that drift invisibly through all our streets as
muffled devils in sheeps' clothing.
dream demon chooses
these never sleep sheep
sends them stuttering
from the herd
crammed into one head
in a hundred

a warm night spins
the dreamon wool

for care:
wash your skull inside out

I'm thinking I should re-read Dhalgren.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

It's a stretch...

The thing I've missed most on my travels is the other big black & white object in my life, albeit less hirsute. After a day of working around Parcelfarce's delivery antics, I finally took order of a Casio digital piano, weighing in at only 11 kg. I've had a short noodle around on it with some of my newer pieces of sheetmusic, but even by 10am it was getting too hot even for that relatively sedentary activity.

Last night a short burst of rain and thunderstorm brought both a cooling breeze and a panic-stricken malamute to my sleep. This week's record-breaking temperatures haven't been kind to Bondi, who has had only a few brief outings to shady trees and a dip in the Thames near Kew Bridge. Chris spent 3 days near Leicester dealing with the heat in wetsuit and heavy dive gear to qualify for his Scuba Diver Instructor certificate.

The rest of the country have been taking to the parks and sunbaking like suicidal lobsters. My friend Robbie has suggested I take advantage of their vulnerability by taking my piano and busking Margarita Pracatan-style. Unfortunately I took my boa to Ireland and St Patrick got rid of it.

Read Daniel Tammet's Born on a Blue Day, an account of someone with Asperger's and savant syndrome. It's a quick read but a little unsatisfactory after Temple Grandin's more insightful book. On the fiction side, I've just done with David Marusek's Counting Heads which reads like Brave New World, crossed with Kurt Anderson's Turn of the Century: the detail turned out to be more interesting than the over-arching narrative(s), so it seemed less than the sum of its very fine parts.Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Consider the water-lilies...

or if that's not your suit, perhaps the first 45 minutes of The Wizard of Oz with Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon as soundtrack.

Chris had some out-of-town relatives visiting on Sunday, with a rendezvous at Kew Gardens. It was ridiculously hot, so Bondi was left to pant on the kitchen floor while we wandered around the grounds in a botanical stupor. I dozed off once or twice when we stopped for refreshments, and was generally useless for the rest of the day after overdosing on sugary lemonades. The pictures can speak for themselves.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Ealing Comedy Festival

Alan Carr in flight as headliner at this evening's Ealing Comedy Festival performance in the big tent at Walpole Park. He was outdone by the wonderful Rich Hall, and more than ably supported by Men in Coats (kinda Umbilical Brothers-ish clowning) and Bob Mills. Posted by Picasa

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Year of the Dog

Platform for art
Tubed into Covent Garden this morning to rendezvous with Nick & Matt from down-under at Monmouth Coffee Company. Bondi hadn't seen Nick since leaving Oz and gave a very licky greeting. I haven't seen Nick in as long, but managed to keep the moistness level under control.

After 90 minutes of idle caffeinated chit-chat, Nick took Matt off to the Tower of London, and Bondi & I set off for Foyle's bookshop (where Bondi's always very welcome). I picked up some walking guides for Hadrian's Wall Path and The Capital Ring. The latter is a loop of inner London, but at 78mi/125km only slightly shorter than the former's crossing of the country. There's another path known as The London Loop, which runs closer to the M25, and is about 100km longer.

We ambled down Old Compton Street, then through Kingly Court into Carnaby Street. I ogled the digital piano in the Casio store again, grabbed a box of lunch from Leon and then returned to Kingly Court for coffee and a dip into Geoff Dyer's Yoga for People Who Can't Be Bothered. A Portuguese waiter there became rather emotional about Bondi, telling me how he'd had a malamute in Lisbon, but the neighbours* had poisoned it at 9 months (apparently a common occurrence there, and sadly also in Australia). There were other moments of emotion as reaction to Bondi's calm curled presence by my chair: a young asian woman stared at him from a shop doorway, and then a brief welling of tears before she turned back to her duties; another young woman leant across my book to ask if he were my dog, and after I nodded and looked up, saw that she was standing with curled hands under her chin, like a '40s starlet or a Raphael cherub.

* Since malamutes don't bark, there is generally very little they can do to annoy neighbours. As far as their backyard activities go, I like their summation as "enthusiastic but unskilled gardeners".

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Thinking aloud

I've been having a downtime week after the busy pace at which I toured Ireland. I think that the 5+ weeks we had on the road was the longest such spell that Bondi & I have done since exploring Tasmania in May 2004. While we've been away from Sydney for 59 weeks, our B&B-hopping jaunts are usually kept at 2-3 weeks.

The remainder of this post is fairly random, reminders to myself mostly, now that I've shifted my short-term memory onto this blog's weary shoulders.

Chris and I went to see the new Dreamworks animated film Over the Hedge on Saturday. It was OK, but really didn't pick up steam until the final 10 minutes. Conversely John McWhorter's book Doing Our Own Thing: The Degradation of Language and Music in America and Why We Should, Like, Care has been a pleasure to read from the beginning.

Some briefer, free entertainments are Chris' new blog What I didn't do before, the talking dogs video on BoreMe's Top 10 Animal list, and various downloadable or streamable programs from BBC Radio 4 and others.

Bondi's not really enjoying the current heatwave, but he got some relief on Monday when I walked him through Harmondsworth Heath, close to BA's Waterside headquarters. It's always a surprise to find pleasant pockets like this, tucked between the M4 & M25 motorways and the Heathrow sprawl. [below]

Chris and I played tennis for a couple of hours on Sunday - no formal games - just belting balls back and forth across the net (with some of his friends) almost without stop. It was my first time wielding a racquet since a short trip to Dublin in 1997, and I was a mess of molested muscles by Monday morning.

I've had some email from a distant Australian relative with whom I share some Irish ancestry on my mother's side. Looking at the family-tree files shared with me, I must be related to half of the population of the Tamworth & Walcha townships in the Northern Slopes area of NSW. Tamworth, Australia's country music capital, was also the location for much filming of the recent Superman Returns movie, and has an amusingly modified Wikipedia entry here.
What's coming up...

Further to all of this day to day activity, I'm trying to plot out my time over the next few months, working around some visits from Australia. It's very likely that I'll go back to Sydney before the end of November so that I can apply for a UK working visa, or at least an extended visitor visa and get an extension on my travel insurance. I guess I'll be there for 4-5 weeks while that visa is processed. Dates TBD as I will have to find somewhere to board Bondi over that time.

I was contemplating travelling through Scandinavia later this summer, and looping back to London via the Baltic republics, Prague and Paris, but I don't want to run the risk of being prevented from entering the UK on the grounds that they don't want self-supporting, insured visitors who know how to use an ATM.

So instead I'm looking at travelling in the far north of England, in particular walking along Hadrian's Wall on the coast to coast crossing between Carlisle and Newcastle.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

The big dog is back

The blackboard at Munson's was updated yesterday with an acknowledgement of Bondi's return. I sat under the awning reading the autobiography "Who on Earth is Tom Baker?", laughing out loud on nearly every other page, while London's summer tried to heave itself back into working order like a broken-down TARDIS.

I was talking to a couple of (Russian?) ladies about various pets they'd had - one of them had snakes, parrots, cats, rabbits and a malevolent canine. She told the story of a parrot owner who had learned to imitate the door-bell, and who would make that noise when it saw the postman out the living-room window. Consequently the owner would always find herself opening the door just as the postman was poised to ring the bell.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Finding Omo

One of the lovelier advertisements I've seen in recent years, is this Italian aquarama for the Ariston Aqualtis clothes-washer.

Music Vangelis: "Ask the Mountains" from the album Voices. Lyrics/Vocal: Stina Nordenstam

Video download (48 seconds, 8MB):
or from

I finished reading Damien Broderick's novel Transcension, which is an alternate take on the social-technological singularity written about by the likes of Stross, Vinge and Egan. Australian Broderick has also written a non-fictional account, published as The Spike. Stross's tiddlywiki account of the nerdly rapture posits everyone being uploaded into their pocket calculators, and presumably disappearing into a breastpocket vortex.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Dog Day Afternoons

London's in the midst of a heatwave. My car thermometer (usually pretty accurate) recorded 36 on Sunday, and it's been 32ish on succeeding days. On Saturday we had a wonderful afternoon/evening hosted by David Morton in Chiswick - rising from our Pimm's and superb Provençale cuisine only to invade the local Tesco Express for ice-cream (BYO silver spoons).

Chris & I took Bondi for an early evening dip in the Thames. Later I caught an episode of Futurama I had never seen: the Emmy-nominated "Jurassic Bark". (sniffle).

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Ferry up the Mersey

Ship's bells woke me at 6am, and we were asked to leave our cabins by 6.45 am.

Got admitted to the top deck about 7.15am and let Bondi out of the car for a stroll as I looked across the Mersey to Liverpool. At 7.30am, the boat was secured to its dock, and trucks began to roll out, and I sat in the car till 8.30 am when it was finally my turn to exit. It took about half an hour to travel a short distance through the Mersey docks as the traffic lights didn't allow a free right-turn towards the Mersey tunnel.

Rolled into Wigan about 9.30am to see the Pierces and do some (not unexpected) computer servicing. I got back on the road at 1.15 and came to a near standstill for about 45 minutes on the M6 due to an earlier accident. Stopped into an M&S roadside stop for coffee but found that the standard of their Ritazza coffee stands had declined drastically. Although boasting that they make coffee in the traditional manner, I don't believe it's a tradition known in Italy ie making bland overheated (see "flesh-melting temperatures") brews in the amount of time that someone at a roadside expresso counter in Italy would serve 5 times as many customers with coffee 5 times as good. The "servers" were too busy chatting to each other, or wiping the foaming tube with a disgusting rag to pay much attention to the long queue before them. I'm reminded of a so-called barista at Starbucks in Brighton who was asked to make a macchiato for me by the cashier: "what's that?" was their response. Do any of these companies provide any training before putting them in front of customers or to work destroying the natural flavours in their "freshly ground" coffee beans???? Arghhh.

Tootled down the M6 and then the M40 into Ealing by about 6pm. Listened to the BBC Radio 3 adaptation of Alan Bennett's play "The History Boys".