Thursday, 9 June 2005

The Long Autumn

Listening to:

Schubert, symphony no. 9. Played by the Dresden Staatskapelle, conducted by Sawallisch.

Climatic considerations

We’re more than a week into June, so I suppose this counts as genuine winter. Nonetheless, it feels much more as if this is just a slightly colder part of autumn. The nights are certainly very cold here now, and we’re getting frequent frosts. But the days are bright, and it’s getting to 18° or 19° by noon as a matter of course.

The farmers are not so happy. It hasn’t rained in approximately two months, and nearby Goulburn apparently has water reserves that are now below 10%. But the city-dwellers with access to big reservoirs welcome the cold, dry brightness, the many oaks still with lots of leaves (some green, many brown), and the generally invigorating conditions. It probably helps that even as the deciduous trees lose their leaves, the eucalypts keep theirs and ensure that there’s still some green about.

Friday, 10 June 2005

Router magic

Listening to:

Debussy, string quartet. (His only one I guess.)

Hi-tech wizardry

I’m writing this on my lap-top, sitting in the lounge, and connected to the web wirelessly. Yes, all this is possible with modern technology. We bought a router over the weekend, and now we have two computers wired to it with ethernet cables, as well as the wireless connection to the laptop, when it’s at home. This feels pretty cool.

Of course, the lap-top generates far too much heat to be left on my lap for very long, even through denim jeans. (I will be turning it all off once I’ve done this.) In other “technology is not always quite so perfect” news, I think I have forgotten my Firefox master password on the laptop. I don’t have much protected by it, so I’ve tried to reset it. But it’s not clear to me that I’ve even managed to do this. Sigh...

Saturday, 11 June 2005

The assassin’s cloak

Listening to:

Bach, Komm, heiliger Geist, BWV 651, one of the “Eighteen” chorales.

Just read:

The assassin’s cloak: an anthology of the world’s greatest diarists, edited by Irene and Alan Taylor.

This book is an impressive collection of diary entries by a large variety of authors. It’s arranged in a clever way: sorted by date within the year, so that every day of the year has two or three entries by that many different authors. For example, on 11 June, there are entries by Violet Jacob (1897), Siegfried Sassoon (1922), Naomi Mitchison (1940) and Harold Nicolson (1942).

I’d heard of many of the diarists. They range from Pepys and Evelyn in the 17th century to Anne Frank and Andy Warhol in the 20th. But there are also a number in the book that I’d never heard of. Whether famous or not, the editors did a good job of picking the diarists. I was little disappointed to see that, apart from Katherine Mansfield, there weren’t any from Australia or New Zealand. Indeed, the only entries that were written in the Southern Hemisphere were by Darwin, and by members of Scott’s expedition to the Antarctic. On the other hand, I was pleased to see entries from non-English speaking diarists: among these were the brothers Goncourt, Goebbels and the Tolstoys.

Some authors are only represented by one or two entries (Darwin has four), but others keep cropping up through the course of the book’s year, and it’s pleasant to be dipping into the various diarists’ stories. Most of the entries are of the 20th century, and the two World Wars are loom large amongst these, but with the great variety in authors, I felt that there was always something new to look forward to as I progressed through the year.

A very enjoyable read.

Saturday, 25 June 2005

Pigeon Post

Listening to:

Schubert, sonata for arpeggione in A minor, D.821.

Just read:

Arthur Ransome, Pigeon Post.

Along with Winter holiday, this is definitely one of my all-time favourite Ransome books. It doesn’t feature any sailing, but it does feature all the Swallows, Amazons and the two D’s. The story is set in the Lake District, but instead of being on the lake of the previous stories, it’s centred on the hills that overlook it.

The adventure this time is based on the search for gold, and features all the technical accoutrements of mining, along with a grown-up rival (memorably called Squashy Hat), and environmental challenges in the form of drought conditions.

The book’s title comes from the neat way the children communicate with their “friendly natives”: they use three homing pigeons to carry messages. The coolness of this device is somehow typical of the whole story; there’s just so much neat stuff that happens.

The story also features a “neat” logical fallacy. Dick reads that

x. x = gold ⇒ D(x)

where D is an important property of gold that comes up in the story.

But Dick converts what he reads into the false

x. D(x)x = gold

and thinks that he has a good test with which to identify gold. This is not really that central to the story, and the error is brushed off quickly when it’s recognised (more important things are afoot). Nonetheless it somehow seems typical that the adventure should require straight thinking.

An absolute children’s classic.

Monday, 27 June 2005


Listening to:

Bach, French suite no. 5 in G, BWV 816. Played by Gustav Leonhardt.

Just read:

Diana Wynne Jones, Hexwood.

Another kids’ book this one, but with quite a different setting and feel. This story has just a single character as its focus, and is definitely in the fantasy/sci-fi genre. And I use the slash advisedly. Jones’s book is quite a successful meld of science-fiction elements and fantasy. Even at the end of the story, when much of the “magic” is revealed to have science-y explanations (Arthur C. Clarke’s law and all that), there are still elements that are decidedly magical in character.

The young protagonist opens the book as an ordinary human kid, one who gets caught up in events of interstellar significance that are playing out next door in a bit of abandoned land, in the wood of the title. Even as she slowly investigates the weird goings on, we are shown another narrative thread in which some (but not all) of them are explained. This thread is resolutely sci-fi, and actually feels very Iain M. Banks-ian, with its intrigue and dark politics.

There are all sorts of twists and turns, and it’s all very entertaining. I think I even forgive the author for the relatively late appearance of the Arthurian mythos. A good read.